What to Ask When Deciding on Programmatic Priorities

A critical component of strategic planning is developing a set of programmatic priorities. I must say that it can be quite fun and inspiring to brainstorm all of the ways in which an organization could carry out its mission – and when we disregard constraints like money and resources, the list can become pretty long. But at some point we have to rein ourselves in and pick which opportunities to prioritize. When tasked with developing programmatic priorities for a recent client, we found the following criteria to be useful:

  1. Where does the greatest need exist? Prioritize programs that help address the greatest need
  2. How much of our mission could we achieve? Prioritize programs that allow for the most mission-fulfillment
  3. How likely is it that other partners will mobilize their efforts in concert with ours and multiply what we do? Prioritize programs that will lead to a multiplier effect, where others who might not have engaged in this work choose to participate and engage
  4. Would this work get done if we don’t take it on? Prioritize programs that are not likely to be accomplished by others –meaning, if we don’t do it, it won’t get done (I call this the “but for us” test – “But for us, would this work get done?”)
  5. To what extent will this program attract its own funding? Prioritize programs that will attract their own funding sources and/or generate earned revenue to cover costs (that way, you don’t have to use your coveted general operating support)
  6. How much energy do our staff and Board have for carrying this out? Prioritize programs that excite your staff and Board and do not unduly increase the demands placed on them
  7. What effect would this have on our reputation? Prioritize programs that effect your reputation positively (or at least be aware of programs that will impact your reputation negatively)

Clearly no decision is this black or white, but using these criteria as guidelines to prioritize can help guide the conversation and elucidate the best choices for the organization to make.