A Strategic Plan Pivots to Navigate a Changing World

The first question one might ask is, why establish a strategic plan? The simple answer is that it provides direction and focus in the form of a written document. Such a plan is intended to be a roadmap for the organization, an outline for the heavy lifting needed to move forward.

The second question is, why change your strategic plan? The short answer is that most organizations don’t change the plan once it has been established. It may be a five-year plan that took eighteen months to develop. There was a lot of thought put into the plan, and it does take time to gain traction on the goals and objectives of such a plan, years in fact, so changing it too soon can be a hindrance to success. ACUI recently made the decision to change our strategic plan, much sooner than expected, and with a shorter timeframe to reassess progress and consider further adjustments.

Why the change? 

Strategic planning surfaced in the mid-1960’s. You have probably participated in one form or another, including processes to examine the organization’s mission and vision, or to conduct a SWOT analysis. Manny Cunard, ACUI’s president in 1992-1993, helped to establish the association’s first strategic plan. Since then we have had regular strategic plans, typically following a traditional model with a five-year timetable to accomplish defined goals and objectives. More recently, we have developed Strategic Guideposts with Annual Priorities. The intent has been for the guideposts to set the overarching long-term direction for the association, with annual priorities being the tool to regularly update how we get there. We wanted to be realistic on what could be accomplished in a single year, to move the needle in stages rather than have it sit stagnant over a five-year period. We also wanted there to be flexibility to make slight adjustments, primarily through the annual priorities, to respond to external factors affecting the association. 

While we expected to make minor adjustments based on factors that would surface from year to year, no one could have predicted the combined issues of 2020 – a global health pandemic, a major recession, and numerous incomprehensible racial injustices. Such challenges required more than a tweak to our plan, they necessitated revisions that were much more significant. Complicating our planning were the realities of having fewer staff and volunteers to implement a strategic plan, higher education in a state of confusion, and uncertainty regarding our world righting itself. Leaders of course do not sit idly by as the world changes, and so it is that the Board of Trustees approved a revised set of Strategic Guideposts and Annual Priorities, which will be in place through the 2022 Annual Conference. 

Strategic Guidepost #1 is to Advance campus community through social justice and education to overcome racism and anti-Blackness. ACUI has for decades worked to support and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion across the profession, and we need to do more. Our social justice resourcesClosing the Gap program, and awards like the Joseph H. Benedict Jr. Social Change Award for Racial Justice are examples. The aim of this guidepost is to support professionals’ social justice work to address and overcome individual and systemic racism in our unions and on campus, in our association, throughout higher education, and across society. It may be ambitious to say our efforts will prompt societal change, but what better avenue than through the educators of college students; professionals who help to shape the future leaders of tomorrow. 

Strategic Guidepost #2 is to Actively engage members and promote the Association to ensure the continued success of ACUI. On the surface this guidepost doesn’t look new or overly crucial, as we’ve always sought to engage members and to promote the Association. Underlying its importance is the financial impact of the pandemic on institutional support for professional development. We know the challenges facing campuses and the reality that we may lose institutional members due to dramatic budget cuts. As we have since the start of the pandemic, we will adjust our educational content and demonstrate value to members. By increasing our online resources, moving our face-to-face programs to virtual, and providing timely information like COVID-19 resources, we have and will continue to transform our programs and services to meet the current needs of our members.  

Strategic Guidepost #3 is to Identify viable strategic solutions to ensure the financial stability of the Association. It’s no surprise that ACUI, like many other non-profits, is in a difficult financial situation due to the impact of the pandemic and subsequent recession. We have an uphill climb as we continue to prioritize resources, mitigate expenses, and look for opportunities to grow nontraditional revenues. We will be innovative as we look for avenues to stabilize our financial position, so that we may ensure the future success of the association and its support of college union and student activities professionals. 

The Board of Trustees, Central Office staff, and all of our volunteers are committed to this strategic plan and will be setting goals to contribute to its success. While I don’t expect another pivot, there are still three months left in 2020, and as we’ve learned during this volatile year, just about anything is possible. Regardless, the association will continue to advance campus community, to support our members as we all navigate a changing world.