Creating a strategic plan

Running a leisure-time music group can be time-consuming. With so many things to do, sometimes you can get bogged down in the small details and immediate issues and forget to look at the bigger picture. Creating a strategic plan will not only help you to do this but will also provide a framework for dealing with those day-to-day details, helping you to run your group smoothly and efficiently.

What are the key elements of a strategic plan?

  • Dreaming – creating a vision for your group which gives you something to aim for over the next few years
  • Planning – working out what you need to achieve your dream, whether that’s money, equipment, people, skills, or something else
  • Doing – creating a framework that will enable you to put your plan into action

Why is it important?

  • It gives your group a sense of purpose, with clear things to aim for and a timescale in which to achieve them
  • It ensures that everyone knows what their role is and gives them a structure to work to
  • It helps to create a fair division of work so that all jobs are covered but people aren’t overloaded
  • It allows you to deliver a better service to your stakeholders – members, audience, volunteers, sponsors, funders and anyone else you come into contact with
  • It creates a more appealing environment for volunteers, members, and prospective committee members

Getting your committee engaged in the process

To some people, a strategic plan may sound like a complicated process involving hard work. But the one thing everyone on your committee (and in your wider membership!) has in common is that they want your group to thrive and be successful.

If your committee is on board with the idea from the start, the process will be easier and better. In addition to the points above (Why is it important?), you could also mention some of these other reasons:

  • You don’t always have time in rehearsals and committee meetings to talk about some of the wider issues – it would be good to spend some time dedicated to those things that you don’t often get to talk about.
  • It’s a good way of coming up with a framework for future activities – you can decide now what needs doing and how important it is, rather than dealing with matters as they arise.
  • A group with a structured approach to their activities will be more organised and efficient, which in turn makes the job of the committee easier, and makes the group more appealing to new members.
  • Likewise, a committee who are focused, organised and enthusiastic about what they do and who don’t seem to be overloaded will be an appealing environment for anyone else considering joining the committee.
  • As committee members and/or trustees, it is legally your responsibility to ensure that your group is achieving the objects laid down in its constitution and that you recognise and plan for your other responsibilities in terms of ensuring that all operations and actions are carried out in the best interests of the group.
  • It is also a great way for a committee to look to the future and make contingency plans so that the group is protected should something unexpected happen.

Setting aside a chunk of time for your committee to get together for a focused session will allow you to tackle most of the process in one go. A good amount of time is at least half a day (for example, at the weekend, in the school holidays, or maybe instead of your normal rehearsal), and ideally you should meet in a neutral location, perhaps your usual rehearsal venue or an office workspace if you have access to one, where there are no distractions (family, TV, etc.) to interrupt you.

What time frame should a strategic plan cover?

This can vary according to the needs of the group, but a plan covering three to five years is the most common. Your plan could be broken down into individual years and should be reviewed and updated as you go. Depending on your situation you might decide that a more focused one- or two-year plan is more useful initially, before thinking longer term. It is a good idea to have a time frame in mind when you start stage one – dreaming…

Stage 1 – Dreaming

The first stage of the process is to imagine your ideal, or ‘dream’, music group. What would it look like? Or sound like? How would it operate?

A great starter task is to ask everyone involved to take a minute or two to create a wish list for their group. What do they want the group to look like or to have in five years’ time? Or what would be their ‘dream group’? For example, people might specify:

  • A full tenor section, or a stronger string section
  • Financially secure
  • Social media presence
  • More young people
  • Double audience size
  • Modern logo
  • Known for working with new composers
  • The mayor comes to every concert
  • Relationship with a school
  • A particular piece you really want to perform or promote
  • Better relationships with particular organisations in the local community
  • Own a particular instrument or some staging or equipment

Get everybody to share their thoughts and create a master list of all the suggestions. Hopefully, you will notice some common themes coming through.

Next, look at each ‘wish’ in turn and think about the steps you might need to take, and what resources you would need to achieve each of these aims. For example, you might need:

  • People with specific skills – which skills? Include steps for finding these people if you think you need to
  • Specialist equipment – what will you need and how much will it cost?
  • Money – how much? If you need to raise funds include this as a step

Remember this should be a ‘big picture’ exercise at this stage. Think about the broad steps, don’t get bogged down in details or worry about how or whether you will achieve something. The purpose is to agree on your ultimate vision – your ‘dream group’. Even if something seems achievable if it’s on your list, think about what it would involve and what it would take to achieve it.

Stage 2 – Planning

Now it’s time to start thinking about what you can realistically achieve. You might be lucky and find that you can do everything on your wish list, or you might find some wishes aren’t realistic and need to be put on hold, or perhaps be reined in to make it (or a version of it) more achievable.

The ultimate aim here is to:

  • Decide  your priorities:
    • What do you want to keep in the plan?
    • What, if anything, do you want to cut out or postpone?
  • Start to have an overall timeline of how the various tasks will fit together

Priorities and timelines

A good starting point is to think about your priorities. It might be useful to categorise things, for example, by allocating a priority rating of 1-5 or sorting things into groups (e.g. must have/ should have, would like to have, could live without).

As you prioritise you can start creating a timeline. How long will each step take? Which tasks will be quickest and easiest to complete? Are some tasks contingent on others being completed first? You could assign a year to the tasks so that you create groups of tasks to be completed or started in year one, tasks for year two and so on.

The ‘Post-it Note’ approach works well for this sort of exercise. Write each aim on its own Post-it Note - you might find it useful to have different colour notes for different priority levels or different aims. You can move them around on a wall or table as you think about a timeline. This visual approach can often help you to see the bigger picture and how it might all fit in together.

Time for detail

Now that you are starting to build a realistic timeline of priorities it’s time to start thinking about what you need to achieve your goals. In stage one you looked at the steps you would have to take for each goal. Now revisit these and look again at what resources you will need to help you achieve your aims.

People and skills:

  • Can the things you want be achieved by the people you have now?
  • What are the gaps in terms of skills? Does anyone in your wider membership have these skills?
  • Which tasks can be managed by one person? Which will be better allocated to a team?
  • Do you need to ‘buy in’ external expertise? Or recruit extra volunteers?
  • Does anyone have too much on their plate? Do you need to reallocate roles and duties?

Money:

  • Do you need to fundraise? Or do you have reserves you can spend?
  • If you need to fundraise, what options are open to you?
  • Is in-kind support an option? Perhaps you could borrow some things you need? Or arrange an exchange?
  • See our guidance on increasing your income for more ideas.

Equipment:

  • What equipment do you have already? Do you need to obtain something new, or can you work with what you have already?

Revisit Priorities and Timelines

The final stage is to look again at your priorities and timeline and make any adjustments needed. Are there some points where everything seems to be happening, and others where nothing much is planned? Adjust your timings so that the workload is more evenly spread. You might also find at this stage that you decide to lose one of your wishes, to make the process more manageable

By the end of this process you should have:

  • A set of achievable aims for your group prioritised in order of importance
  • Steps you need to take to achieve the aims
  • A timeline showing the order you need to take those steps
  • A good idea of the resources you already have to help you achieve the aims, and the resources gaps you need to fill.

Stage 3 - Doing

Now that you have your plan and you know what you need to do to achieve it you can start building a framework for actually delivering the plan. Decide on your key roles (e.g. marketing, fundraising, recruitment) and what tasks from your plan will sit under each one.

  • Break things down into their smallest components and create groups of tasks that absolutely have to go together and things that could be shared out between roles.
  • Consider using the ‘Post-it Note’ approach for this – by writing each individual duty on its own Post-it Note, you can move them around on a wall or table as you are thinking about things, and can see where the majority of the work is.
  • You can use the MM sample role descriptions to help you decide what should go where.
  • You might find you need to create more roles than you already have, but do check your constitution to make sure you are operating within the correct criteria for committee numbers. (You don’t need to rewrite your constitution!)
  • Also consider understudy roles for every important job, no matter how big or small. What happens if someone has an emergency or is in hospital? Don’t rely on just one person.

The right people in the right roles: People are often keen to help but might be in the wrong role for their skills because they’ve just filled a gap. Be honest in your assessment: Could some people be better in a different role?

The role of chair: A really important consideration is the role that your chair will play. Different people chair in different ways, and different groups will require a different approach. You need to decide what is right for your group, and for the person filling the role. Read our guidance on the role of the chair.   

The MD: Don’t forget to include a role description for your MD, especially if you would like them to take on new duties or you want them to exploit their contacts. It’s important that you establish what is within their remit and what isn't.

Building teams

Developing teams of people is a really interesting way to manage bigger roles, and has lots of benefits:

  • Gives scope to recruit more people – a team could be led by a committee member but formed of volunteers from your wider group or elsewhere (see below)
  • Shares workload and helps reduce someone being overburdened with duties
  • Knowledge is shared among more people
  • Gaps can be covered more easily if needed
  • Gives people more flexible commitment options
  • Allows people to use their skills in the best ways – some people are better at leading and coordinating than doing and vice versa.

If there are teams:

  • Have a clear function for each team – what is their remit? Remember that the committee is ultimately responsible for the group so be clear about what a team can and can’t do (e.g. making decisions).
  • Will they have specific aims or targets?
  • How many people will be on each team?
  • How will roles be shared out within the team? Short role descriptions may be a good idea
  • Who will lead the team? Ideally, it will be a committee member.
  • How will your committee keep up-to-date with a team's progress? Having a way for the team to report to the committee can be really useful for everyone:
    • Helps focus and motivate the team and demonstrates the impact they are having
    • Allows the committee to keep an overview of what stage things are at and to decide if priorities or resources need to change
  • While reporting back is important, try to keep it simple – over-burdensome reporting can demotivate people and you end up doing more reporting and less doing.

Recruiting help

  • Are there people in your wider membership who have key skills and how will you find them?
    • Regular shout-outs at rehearsals
    • Question on membership joining form
    • Cultivate individuals (i.e. butter them up!)
    • Undertake a skills audit – survey your membership
    • Use the personal touch and approach individuals
    • Start people off small – ask them to do one small job that contributes to the larger whole
    • Be respectful of people’s time and their wishes
    • Consider having fixed-term positions
  • Do you need to recruit outside your membership for certain key skills? How will you do this?
    • Friends and family
    • Volunteer centres (local CVS)

Communicating your plan

It’s important to keep your membership informed of your plans and how progress is going. A two-minute update during a rehearsal on what the committee has been doing will help them to feel like part of a larger whole. An honest and transparent approach will work best: Explain why you have taken certain decisions, whether they have been successful, and what your next steps will be.

Review and re-plan

Even the best-laid plans need to be flexible and adaptable. The committee should build in regular points to review how work is progressing and see if any changes need to be made. This could be adjusting priorities and timelines, reallocating people and money, or maybe even deciding to drop some aims from your original plan.

Don’t be afraid to make changes or change tack if you need to. It might be that external or unforeseen factors have an impact, or you simply realise something wasn’t such a great idea in the first place or is not as achievable as you first thought. Either way, it’s better to recognise the issue and adjust your plan than plough on regardless. You should not see it as a failure if things need to change, but rather as good self-awareness and good group management.


We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.