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You’ve done it: you have just auditioned your a cappella group’s next set of talented voices; you've found a member to volunteer to serve as your group’s treasurer or business manager; you've just released your group’s newest and greatest album. With a plethora of victories and accomplishments in your pocket, the question remains: what next?

It is the ultimate goal of an organization to continually move forward, grow, develop, and stay focused on its path. However, far too often, a cappella groups go through new executive leadership year after year, and it can seem that the ensemble’s trajectory is constantly changing and aimless. One year, you allocate all funding and energy on releasing albums, while the next, you focus solely on developing merch and marketing. While all of these tasks can positively impact the ensemble as a whole, the whiplash of your strategy can leave members of the group divided, confused, and unable to truly decide what initiatives to champion at what time.

While an a cappella group is a performance ensemble, it is oftentimes, too, a business. Many groups are responsible for managing money, budgeting funds for different projects, and looking to expand their activities as a means to grow their reach and exposure. As with any business, the key to keeping an organization afloat, viable, and impactful is strategy. Every move that the organization makes must be carefully orchestrated to slowly inch itself forward towards a set of goals. These goals are supported by budgeting, spending, and time-capital. For example, if the goal of an a cappella group is to release an album by the end of the year, why are we spending $1,500 on new t-shirts? If our goal is to expand our repertoire to include 20 songs this year, why are we accepting four Christmas gigs that completely limit our rehearsal time to four months of holiday songs?

The solution to these problems is a process called strategic planning. Strategic planning is the process of an organization setting long-term goals, defining its overall mission, and working to create achievable steps and plans to accomplish their vision. Strategic planning allows the organization to appropriately respond to opportunities or challenges to consistently keep itself in-line with their overall goals. This prevents the ensemble from getting side-tracked, distracted, aimless, and reckless with its spending. There are four primary steps to successfully executing a strategic plan. In this first article, I want to focus on the first two steps. While these two steps can feel esoteric and may involve some tough conversations between your executive board and the members of your group, if you can build a foundation through these first two steps, you'll be on the right track to a successful year (and beyond!) for your groups.

STEP 1: Evaluation and Diagnosing

In order to set goals and problem-solve, an organization must first fully understand their current context. This process involves large-group discussions in which different stakeholders brainstorm and share their current understanding of the group’s needs, strengths, and opportunities for growth. For example, a collegiate group may find that they are repeating the same four songs over and over again at different gigs. A semi-professional group may discover that they are quickly on the trajectory to run out of money by the end of the year, due to massive spending on digital advertising and website fees.

A helpful tool that ensembles, businesses, and nonprofits use is the SWOT Analysis. A SWOT Analysis is an internal-external review tool that helps the group examine their strengths and growth areas. (More information about a SWOT Analysis can be found here.) The Evaluation and Diagnosing conversation should also include a time for dreaming and visioning. What do your members see as an ideal and perfect future? What big ideas do your stakeholders see for the group’s future?

STEP 2: Goal-Setting and Visioning

Once your members have had a chance to contribute their thoughts, it is time to consolidate them to paper. Every strategic plan should be guided by the future. To appropriately strategize, the organization must first establish a vision. Based on the input from your members and executive board, ask yourself:

Where do we want the group to be in five years?
What is our overall dream for a perfect future for the group?

Use present-tense language and be very clear about what the best version of your group appears to be. For example: “Treble Voices has three albums released to the public. We have at least $10,000 in our savings account, and we have over 3000 likes on our social media page.” The clearer the vision, the better the strategic planning process will be. Remember: start with the end in mind. Take this time to truly dream big and set an exciting train in motion.