Question of the Month: How Can My Club Go About Strategic Planning?

While planning is an indisputable necessity for flying clubs in formation, it is sometimes seen as being less important for clubs that are established—particularly those that have been around for years.  Even after a club becomes operational, however, it is important that its leadership continues to plan for the future.  This type of planning—known as strategic planning—is a club’s process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions about the allocation of its resources to pursue this strategy.  Strategic planning allows a club to establish an organizational direction, prepare for obstacles and opportunities down the road, ensure a financially sound future, and plan for growth. 


The best run flying clubs are often those that make a concerted effort to plan in a strategic manner—usually by holding recurrent strategic planning sessions dedicated to this task.  These sessions allow clubs to talk out and decide upon long-term goals, and to solicit ideas for the future.  Topics that are good to discuss at strategic planning sessions include (but are not limited to) a club’s mission/vision, its bylaws, its growth plans, the suitability of its aircraft, its location, its safety and social programs, its finances, and any long-term projects or goals.  


For a club looking to begin a strategic planning session, it is best to start by deciding upon a planning team, creating a schedule, and gathering all the necessary documents (e.g. bylaws, financial statements) that might be referred to during the planning process.  Prior to the session, it is advisable for clubs to conduct preliminary research by surveying their membership.  The purpose of this is twofold: surveys are great for soliciting anonymous member opinions about the club’s current practices, and they also make for a good way to collect new ideas.  If a club is looking to launch a simple survey, the online tool SurveyMonkey is intuitive, easy-to-use, and—best of all—free!  


As you begin the strategic planning process, it is always good to review your club’s vision, mission and values.  The vision of a club focuses on tomorrow and what your club ultimately wants to become, while a mission statement is concerned with the present, and addresses what your club intends to do to achieve its vision.  The differences between a vision and a mission statement can be seen in the following example, which was taken from The Westminster Aerobats Flying Club, Inc.:


Vision: “To encourage and promote an interest in aviation, to advance knowledge in aeronautical subjects, and to bring more people the social benefits and pleasures of recreational flying in a club environment.”


Mission: “To provide members access to an affordable and versatile aircraft that will allow them to further their flying skills in a safe and fun manner.”  


As this example illustrates, the club’s mission—providing access to an aircraft—paves a path toward its ultimate vision: to promote aviation and advance aeronautical knowledge.  It’s possible that during your club’s formation ideas like mission and vision were thought out but not written down.  If this is the case, a strategic planning session provides an ideal opportunity to put them in writing.  A clearly articulated mission and vision can steer the direction of the planning process and revisiting them as a club provides an excellent way to ensure that everyone is on the same page prior to developing specific plans.  In addition to discussing your club’s mission and vision, it is also a good idea to discuss its values—the core principles that shape its culture.  


Once your club has reviewed its vision, mission statement, and values, it makes sense to analyze your club’s current state.  After all, only by understanding thoroughly where you presently are can you begin to make progress toward a future goal.  One particularly simple and effective way to approach this problem is by using a SWOT analysis framework.  SWOT is an acronym that stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  Strengths and weaknesses are both internal to your flying club and listing them will involve an honest assessment of what your club is good at, as well as those areas that could be improved upon.  Opportunities and threats, on the other hand, describe either potential ways that you could grow and develop your club or, alternatively, those things within the wider environment that could pose a challenge to your operations.  Once you have established what your club’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats are, you can brainstorm ideas about how to address the various issues you have identified. 


SWOT analysis represents a great way to prioritize your flying club’s plans.  Following it, it is good to set short to mid-term goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.  When setting these goals, it is important to choose key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be used to track your club’s progress as it goes forward.  KPIs are quantifiable measures that can be used to evaluate the success you have had in meeting your performance objectives.  For example, the number of members in your club would be a KPI that you would track if your goal was to increase your marketing efforts to attract more members in the coming year.  Without a specific measure by which to track goals, it would be difficult to say whether your club is making progress toward its objectives.  Also, as you go through the strategic planning process, remember it is vital that your club’s budget is aligned with its plans.    


When developing goals for your club, it is a good idea to assign them to specific club officers (or members) to oversee.  Otherwise, it might be ambiguous who is responsible for ensuring that a particular goal is accomplished.  For example, it would make sense that—if your club’s goal is to create a more robust safety program—the task would fall to the club’s safety officer.  


Once your strategic planning group completes its plan, it is time to share it with the club at large.  When doing this, it is ideal to point out what the group discovered in its initial research, and how the planning session addressed these issues.  Tell the club what goals were set, and how progress toward these goals will be tracked. 


Strategic planning should be an ongoing process within your flying club, and it should not end once a committee has decided upon a plan.  Instead, a schedule should be established for tracking progress and monitoring KPIs, and the plan’s effectiveness should be reviewed at the end of an agreed upon span of time.  Lessons learned can then be integrated into future plans that are drawn up in years to come.  


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