Why Your Association Must Have a Business Plan

Groups of individuals, including deer and elk farmers, often get together and form an association to promote their common interests. More gets accomplished through the pooling of resources, skills and energy than any one individual can ever hope to achieve.

Deer and elk farming organizations are popular. We are in the process of compiling a list of these associations. So far we have identified 64 of them – mostly in Canada and the USA, but in several other countries as well. (We will be posting this list on Deerfarmer.com as soon as we verify we have the correct contact information for each association).

Although associations have many strengths, they often face challenges as well. These include reconciling the different needs of their members, having more to do than people, time and money allow, and setting a direction and priorities for their organization and membership.

One good way to address these challenges is to have a “business plan.” Business plans are a must for private sector organizations. Recently, public sector organizations have also begun to embrace regular on-going business planning. For example, here in Alberta, all provincial government departments, all colleges and universities, and all health authorities are required to prepare and submit annually a three-year business plan. However, not-for-profit and voluntary organizations have been slow to see the value of systematic and regular business planning. This is too bad, because a business plan is a very powerful tool and can help any organization to achieve its goals effectively and efficiently.

So what is a business plan? It is a document that describes what an organization is about, what its goals and priorities are, what activities it will undertake to achieve these goals, and what resources (people, money) it needs to get these things done. Some have compared a business plan to a road map – you need to know where you want to go, the route you will take to get there, and the resources you need for your trip. I also like to think of a business plan as a “to-do” list. It describes all the things you need to do for the benefit of your members and your industry.

So why does your association need a business plan? There are many good reasons why every deer and elk association should have one. These include:

  1. It provides a clear written statement of what your association is about, where it is going, and how it plans to get there.
  2. The process of developing a business plan is as valuable as the end document. During development of the plan, the board and executive are required to define and agree upon goals, objectives, priorities and strategies. This helps focus the limited resources and energy of the organization on doing the most important things first.
  3. A business plan serves as a great to-do list. The association can assign responsibilities and tasks to individuals, committees and/or contractors. As each task gets done, it is checked off.
  4. A business plan encourages accountability of the association and its board/executive. It is very easy at the annual general meeting to get a status/progress report of what tasks in the business plan were completed, and which objectives were met. (I believe the major reasons people don’t like business plans is because they will be held accountable. If you don’t promise to do anything, then it doesn’t matter what you do).
  5. A business plan is an essential communication tool. It lets existing and potential new members know who you are, what you plan to do to promote the industry, and why they should join. It also lets other stakeholders, such as government departments and other agencies, know what you are doing.
  6. An association business plan is a critical document if you are applying for government grants or raising funds. It demonstrates that you have your act together, have a plan to use the funds, and can be held accountable.
  7. An association business plan can be of great benefit to your members as well. If they are applying for financing, they should attach a copy of the Association business plan to their own. This is essential to convince lenders and/or investors that deer and elk farming is a viable industry, has a great future and is worth investing in.
  8. It enhances the image and credibility of your association by showing others that you have a vision, a plan and are using modern management tools.

So how does your association go about developing a business plan? There are several ways and they all work.

One method (the more expensive one) is to hire a consultant to work with the association to develop and write the plan. The consultant would be responsible for gathering the information, holding workshops with the board/executive/members to determine the goals, strategies and activities, and write the final document.

The other option is to have an individual or group from the organization prepare the plan. The committee will need to collect the relevant data, identify goals, priorities and strategies, and prepare a draft plan for the board and membership.

I find it very useful to hold a one or two-day retreat to do this type of thing. As well, the draft business plan should be distributed and approved by the membership at your annual general meeting. Once this is done, your association should have less problems with criticism from the members because everyone knows and has agreed upon the goals, priorities and activities.

Most deer and elk associations have access to planning expertise within their membership. Many professionals are involved in the industry. As an association, you should identify and take advantage of the knowledge, expertise and resources of these individuals. It will keep your costs down, and yet result in a quality product.

The business plan should reflect the needs of your membership. Otherwise, you will have difficult in attracting and keeping your members. The best way to identify the needs of members is through some sort of survey. I recommend that you survey everyone – it gets you more returned questionnaires, and nobody can accuse you of not asking for their opinions and input. Developing a good survey instrument requires a professional. However, we (Deer Farmer) mailed a sample survey that we have successfully used to all the associations. Please feel free to modify this questionnaire and use it with your members.

What should be in an association business plan? Whatever is necessary to clearly outline the proposed directions, strategies and activities of your organization. Here are the types of things that I like to include:

  1. An overview of the industry (deer or elk) in your jurisdiction. This should include such things as when deer/elk farming began in your state/province/country, how many farmers have how many animals behind wire, relevant legislations/regulations, the size ($) and growth of the industry, etc. This puts the industry in perspective for the readers, many of whom may not be familiar with deer and elk farming.
  2. Something about your association or organization. This can be such information as when and why it was founded, its legal and organizational structure, governance model, how many members it has had over the years of its existence, and its achievements and accomplishments to date.
  3. A section called directions and environment. Here it is a good idea to outline the opportunities (and risks) associated with deer and elk farming. Also, if a survey of members was done, this is a good place to describe their needs and priorities.
  4. The next section should contain your association’s vision, mission statement and goals and objectives. The goals should be for a five-year period, and are the foundation of your business plan. They are what you want to accomplish and how you plan to do it. There are a finite number of goals in this industry. The more common ones that you need to consider are:
    • Promoting and advancing the industry in your jurisdiction
    • Increasing the number of deer (or elk) farmers
    • Expanding the markets for deer, elk and related products
    • Providing marketing services for members
    • Education and training of members, e.g., workshops
    • Increasing awareness and knowledge among consumers
    • Supporting research and development
    • Lobbying for changes in legislations and regulations
    • Providing value and services to members
    • Raising funds to support association activities
    • Implementing communication programs and strategies
    • Running the association effectively and efficiently
    • You can not do all of these. Set some priorities and a time table
  5. Once you have your goals, you need to identify the strategies, actions and expected results (outcomes) for each. This breaks the goals down into “doable” activities that will lead to the achievement of that goal. For example, if the goal is to expand the number of deer farmers, the strategy may be to “make potential deer farmers aware of the opportunities” and one action would be to “have an association booth at the local agricultural exhibition or fair.” It is very easy to come up with many actions so that setting priorities and taking on manageable chunks is important.
  6. A hot topic in management these days is performance monitoring through use of indicators. Indicators are simply ways of measuring what you have accomplished. For example, the number of new deer/elk farmers (and/or new members in your association) is a measure of the growth in the industry in your jurisdiction. Try and develop some indicators for the goals you want to accomplish.
  7. The final section is the resources chapter. In here, there should be a five-year budget of expected revenues and expenses. These are the projected funds that you will have available not only to run your association, but to undertake projects. Obviously, your resources will determine how fast you can implement your business plan. In this section, you should also describe any people resources (executive director, office staff) that are available (or will be hired) to do the things outlined in the plan.

Survey results, articles and other relevant information can be attached in the appendix of the business plan. Your final plan should be about 15 to 25 pages in length.

Once your plan is completed, it should become a working document. I recommend that it become an item for discussion at every board meeting. Use it to identify what needs to be done, who is going to do it (by when), and check it off when done. The plan should be reviewed and updated on an annual basis. Simply extend the time- frame by one year and have it reviewed at your annual meeting.

It may sound like a lot of work, but believe me, it is well worth it. Your association will be able to get a lot more done with your limited resources. If you are reading this article as a board member or executive, consider putting a business plan on the agenda of your next meeting. If you already have a business plan, congratulations – but have you updated it recently? And are you using it to guide the decision-making and management of your association?

If you are a member of an association, ask to see their business plan. After all, they are supposed to be working for you, and you should be aware of how they plan to protect and promote your interests as a deer or elk farmer. If your association does not have a business plan, encourage them to prepare one for the next annual general meeting, and even offer to help them put one together.