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October 7, 2021

The Portfolio Approach: Is your Association’s Portfolio Aligned with its Strategic Plan?

Most associations have a wide variety of offerings in their portfolios, which can make it difficult for anyone to get their arms around the various programs and services. And while there is often no shortage of new ideas, very few associations ever stop doing things. Instead, staff and budgets get stretched thinner every year as new offerings are added.

A different approach is needed to help associations focus on what’s truly driving value and to make decisions about future investments of their resources, including staff’s time and talent. Learn more about a strategic portfolio approach that helps accomplish these goals.

Analyze your program portfolio with a focus on organizational sustainability

Ideally, your association has a strong strategic plan in place. If not, learn more here.

A best practice for any high-performing organization is to regularly review its portfolio of offerings to ensure relevancy and value in the current marketplace, along with alignment with its strategic plan. By conducting an organization-wide portfolio audit, staff will have a better direction for prioritizing resources and ultimately freeing up resources that can be allocated to new program development.

Each program should undergo a review process focused on value, financial metrics and mission alignment. To do this, each department should work through the exercise of mapping the benefits, offerings and resources in their current portfolio based on a common set of criteria.

Evaluate each product, service or program as it stands today:
  • How strong is its connection to your strategies and objectives?
  • How might you tweak the activity to better align with the strategic plan?
  • Can you increase the ROI (mission and/or margin) of the activity?
  • What might not be adding value anymore?
  • What’s missing that you need to add?
Use tools including quantitative and qualitative data, spanning:
  • Survey research, which can include reaching out to members, customers and non-members/non-customers
  • Financial data, to analyze profit and ROI
  • Qualitative data related to mission and strategic plan alignment

Sometimes, organizations don’t have the data they need to make objective decisions about program changes. This can lead to inertia or decisions based on historical experiences, member leader influence or emotional ties to projects. When this is the case, associations should begin by establishing program evaluation guidelines that include alignment with the current strategic plan, mission impact and profitability. This will help ensure efforts are focused on the most effective and impactful offerings. Then, staff can work to establish a more robust data-driven decision-making process and build an infrastructure that better supports data collection and analysis.

Don’t be discouraged! Identifying the metric and collecting data needed to establish a baseline is a strong step forward.

Establish strategic direction through multi-year planning

It’s essential to focus on what will get you from here to there. Most organizations only plan for one year at a time and it’s usually budget driven. For example, I have x dollars from last year, so I need to spend x again next year. Or worse, I must cut the budget and find a way to still do everything I did last year. Rarely do we look out on the full-time horizon of a multi-year strategic plan for incremental investments we can make to get us closer to our desired outcomes.

In strategic plan implementation, it’s important to be clear about the programs that truly align with the plan and organize those into portfolios of work that can be evaluated together. It’s okay if that’s cross-departmental. In fact, it’s best because it forces us to think outside of the silos that may have visible or invisible within our organizations.

Collaboratively work to determine how over time you can reposition your resources (learn more about this in our future post focused on culture and teams). Always keep in mind where you are going in the plan’s time horizon. With a focus on the ultimate outcome, you can work backwards to determine what you need to start doing and when. For example, identify a small thing you can do in year one that will give you wind in your sails and position that program for bigger investments in years two, three and beyond. You can also plan for sunsetting or staggering program investment to free up capital or human resources.

Next steps

Would you like to establish a date-driven, actionable process to evaluate your program portfolio? Get in touch to find out how we can help.

Learn more about strategic planning and implementation and data strategies here:


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