What is the importance of an annual plan?

While a strategic plan is the long-term framework for what is to come, an annual plan – or work plan – is staff-driven, designed with specific objectives, outcome measures, and areas of responsibility (including timelines) in order to provide the day-to-day guidelines needed to ensure the strategic goals are ultimately met.

What does accreditation mean for human service organizations?

Achieving accreditation is recognition that your organization adheres to a higher level of standards; that you are producing high quality services; and are operating at an effective level as recognized by an expert outside agency.

Accreditation – A Bedrock of Risk Management

When insurance companies are considering coverage for an organization, they are generally looking for those that can demonstrate high performance in risk prevention, safety, quality, outcomes, and qualified and competent staff. Accreditation standards often drive good practices in these same areas, particularly with risk management and performance improvement. Thus, the accreditation status of an organization can be indicative of the frequency and severity of costly claims.

Dan Rains, CSP, ARM, Risk Control Manager for Berkley Human Services, offers insight, “Accreditation speaks volumes about the quality of an organization. It demonstrates commitment to a continuous improvement culture with data-driven quality assurance processes and visionary leadership. These are all things that are important from an underwriting perspective which can have long term impact on losses and total cost of risk.”

Sean Conaboy, MSW, MPA, Insurance advisor with NSM Insurance Brokers, Behavioral Healthcare/Human Services Practice provides additional insight. “Insurance companies are interested in how an organization mitigates its risks, and one sound mitigation strategy is national accreditation. That’s why the first questions on an insurance application are regarding both licensure and type of accreditation.”

Accreditation as a Risk Reduction Strategy

By shifting an organization from a reactive stance after an adverse event to an ongoing proactive risk management approach, accreditation can become the bedrock for effective risk control and mitigation. The standards and survey process of accreditation guides an organization in a process of identifying and assessing actual and potential risks as well as implementing activities to prevent occurrence and to reduce severity should there be an occurrence.  Connaboy agrees, “When an applicant for insurance notes that they are accredited by a national accrediting body, the underwriter reviewing the application can assume that the organization has a strong infrastructure based on sound risk control activities and practices. At the end of the day, insurance companies want to know how well-run an organization is – and being accredited provides the framework for a well-run organization.”

Additionally, legal conformance and regulatory compliance are universal, risk-reducing requirements of all accrediting bodies. Accrediting organizations also encourage and assist organizations to go beyond what is regulated and strive for a higher level of quality and safety through a continuous improvement process that incorporates monitoring the effectiveness of risk reduction activities as well as outcomes achieved.

Risk Exposures and Controls

Risk exposures and controls are addressed in a variety of ways during the accreditation process, notably in standards and in areas addressed during the onsite survey. Below are some examples of the high-risk exposure areas and controls that may be used to mitigate the exposure.

Risk: Transporting Clients/Persons Served

Control Examples:

  • Criteria for authorizing drivers
  • Use of vehicle telematics
  • Appropriate safety restraints and adequate passenger supervision

Risk: Abuse/Molestation

Control Examples:

  • Zero-tolerance policies/Culture of safety
  • Criminal background and reference checks
  • Mandated reporting policy/procedures

Risk: Cyber Attack

Control Examples:

  • Initial and periodic staff training on cybersecurity
  • Policies and procedures addressing staff use of computers and passwords (remote access)
  • Software protection of information
  • Updating computers and backup/recovery procedures

Risk: Lack of Qualified/Competent Staff

Control Examples:

  • Policies and procedures for verification of credentials
  • Oversight and supervision of staff
  • Staff training
  • Written job descriptions linking duties/responsibilities to qualifications/competencies

Effective risk controls also include emergency response preparedness. An accredited agency is usually required to have a written disaster plan including, if applicable, evacuation and relocation of staff and clients, as well as specific plans to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities and other special needs during emergencies. The organization must also address coordination with governmental authorities and emergency responders.

Accreditation and the Risk Management Model

The standard risk management model includes identification, analysis, evaluation, and mitigation of risk. Accreditation can help organizations to identify risks they perhaps have not thought about, such as requiring a possible potential disaster be used in an emergency management plan. Requirements to conduct a risk assessment help organizations analyze and evaluate risks to determine how severe or costly they might be and can help identify risk controls to mitigate the risk. Additionally, accreditation helps organizations to reduce or mitigate risk through standard compliance in key areas, such as safety standards, fire code compliance, IT data management, human resources policies, emergency planning, and more.

How Can Accreditation Guru Help?

Although reducing risks is common with accreditation, there are differences in the risk management/risk reduction requirements between the accrediting bodies. Please feel free to contact us to learn more about the differences in risk management standards across the national accrediting bodies.

In addition to helping organizations achieve their accreditation goals, Accreditation Guru’s consulting team is also available to assess your organization’s risk management/risk reduction processes. Our service includes a holistic, systemic assessment of your risk management process or an assessment of one or more specific critical risk exposures.


For more information or questions about the contents of this article, please write or call Jennifer Flowers @ Jennifer@AccreditationGuru.com / 212.209.0240.   This post contains original content and was written for Accreditation Guru, Inc. Use of this copy is permitted with credit and reference within the same body of copy to Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Wisdom and Value in Strategic Planning

By Dave Branding, PhD

One of my absolute favorite days of the work year calendar is strategic planning. I look forward to this special opportunity when key leaders come together and focus. We scan the environment, assess our positions, incorporate input, determine goals and set priorities for how we intend to perform the important work together in alignment.

Of course, strategic planning is less a day and more an ongoing, evolving process that often includes an identifiable day when teams actively plan together. From my position as a CEO, the value is having key leaders and governing bodies hear the same information and build consensus regarding the way forward.

Imagine YOUR key stakeholders forecasting, projecting and designing elements of a future together. It’s a joy to have teams listen intently, brainstorm and contribute insights in a safe, positive setting. The goal is to find a collective, coherent way forward despite operating in risk-bearing, fiscally challenging and often ambiguous environments. How empowering!

The strategic plan, when thoughtfully developed, might be the single greatest gift that boards and leadership teams can give each other and ultimately to the community served.

Providing a concise framework for strategic planning, accreditation standards emphasize what should be considered in the ongoing planning process, how the plan itself is to be developed, what it must include and how it is maintained and shared with others.

In my experience as a CARF surveyor, one frequently missed standard is ensuring that the plan reflects financial positioning at the time it’s drafted and at projected points in the future.

Organizations achieve substantial conformance by paying attention to detail in documentation and using the actual standards as an outline for the content generated by the process, which informs the resulting written plan.

The Planning Process

In our organization, planning practices have evolved over many years and are constantly being refined.  Rough outlines guiding the planning process, collected formally and informally, are written on large paper pages displayed around the room for reference by everyone.

For our first step, the leadership team and governing board meet together and we facilitate the meeting ourselves. Other organizations find it helpful to use an external facilitator.

We update everyone on the status of the existing plan, acknowledging those items that are completed , note others that are still in process and jettison the ones that will not be pursued.  We use a large electronic screen to update a simple SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and spend most of the time brainstorming priority areas for our efforts, which are recorded on large sheets of paper.

Further discussion, reorganization and prioritization helps us solidify the plan’s rough content. In the following days, we draft a brief, concise document that is shared with the leadership team and governance board for input and revisions.

Successful Implementation

Last year, we then shared our draft goals and objectives with all 60 staff members throughout our organization and used a nominal voting process to solicit everyone’s input and document priorities.

We listed strategic opportunities on large post-it sheets around the room and everyone voted by placing stickers next to the issues they thought to be most important.  This input also factored strongly into the development of our final written plan.

Ultimately, the governing board approves the strategic plan’s final draft, which is implemented with at least twice-annual updates that are submitted to the board. This year, we are trying a Gantt chart format to more clearly specify when each element of the plan initiates and concludes.

We also seek input and feedback to strengthen our planning process for the coming year by sharing elements of the plan at key community stakeholders meetings, distributing reports to all staff members and holding regular meetings with the people we serve – tailoring content to each audience, as appropriate. Other organizations use their website to share strategic directions with a broader audience.

There is strong wisdom and incredible value in the alignment of people, ideas, resources and purposeful work that’s specified in a well-developed strategic plan, which helps us implement continuous, organization-wide quality improvement and sustainability more than any other initiative or directive.

Accreditation Guru can help you and your colleagues achieve a strategic planning process that meets your needs while conforming to accreditation standards that help your organization Prepare for Greatness

Dave is CEO at JAMHI Health & Wellness in Juneau, Alaska, a CARF surveyor and a consultant with Accreditation Guru.

For assistance with your strategic planning, please contact us at 212.209.0240 or email Rocio@AccreditationGuru.com.


Jennifer Flowers Recently Interviewed by NonProfit Pro on Effective Annual Plans

Our very own Jennifer Flowers, CEO, sat down for an interview with NonProfit PRO. In this interview, she discussed ways to best create an effective annual plan after an organization has developed its strategic plan.

Jennifer provides tips and tactics about various issues to consider, including the kind of information an agency should include in an annual plan, tips on fundraising goals, the amount of time an agency should dedicate to its annual plan and how to best incorporate unexpected grants or restricted gifts that an agency might receive midyear.

For these tips and tactics, plus more, read the article here.

How to Have a Winning Board Retreat

A well-functioning, cohesive and engaged board of directors is a crucial factor for your organization’s ability to fulfill its mission. As a nonprofit organization continues to grow in both size and significance, it is increasingly vital for board members to understand their evolving role and the importance of their contributions to successful mission fulfillment.

One way to help support your board members’ learning and engagement is to hold an annual board retreat.

The first thing to understand is that board retreats are different from regular board meetings beyond the significant impact of holding a retreat off-site in a unique location from where board meetings are normally held.

Make a Retreat Unique

A retreat is not simply a longer board meeting. The agenda for your retreat should be entirely different from your normal meeting agenda. Also, board retreats should be at least a half day – a full day is even better.

There are three key reasons for having an annual board retreat: team building, strategic planning and board development/education (including fundraising). Holding a retreat allows your board time to regroup, reconnect and recharge.

1. Team Building

Although you may know your board members, they may not know one another all that well. Most people come into a board meeting, sit in the same seat where they always sit, go through the meeting and then leave. How are they expected to get to know one another if there is no time for socializing and team building?

Time needs to be spent on encouraging board members to know one another better and begin to develop personal ties. I have known people who served on the same board for more than five years and never realized that their kids played on the same sports team and they knew many of the same people until I facilitated their board retreat and we engaged in an interactive exercise. The experience provided new connections and let them relate on another level.

Successful board retreats should also include a “mission moment,” where you remind people why they serve on the board. It might be a short video or presentation by a staff member or a testimonial by someone served by the organization. You want to re-engage people with personal stories of mission impact and how their work as board members support mission fulfillment.

2. Strategic Planning

An annual board retreat is the ideal time to advise the board of progress made and/or the difficulties faced when trying to achieve strategic goals. Be realistic, however – they are there to help you make difficult decisions.

It might also be a time to review and revise your strategic plan, if necessary.

If you don’t have a strategic plan or if your mission and vision need to be updated, you can set the stage and gain input along with the necessary buy-in to the process. An outside facilitator can be especially useful here if you are inexperienced in developing strategic plans or revising mission statements.

3. Board Development and Education (Including Fundraising)

If your board is an EXCEPTIONAL board, consider yourself lucky! Many nonprofits I speak with, however, have room for improvement (sometimes a lot of room!) before their board of directors is fully engaged.

A retreat is the perfect time to provide education and discuss board development topics with your board members.

Start by reviewing the roles and responsibilities of your board members. Everyone should be clear about the expectations of board members by the organization and they, in turn, need to be honest about their ability and willingness to meet these expectations. You may ask your board members to sign a form acknowledging their roles and responsibilities as a way of recommitting to the organization for the coming year.

Do you have a board that tends to overstep its boundaries? Perhaps you can participate in an exercise that focuses on responsibilities of board members as they relate to nonprofit leadership and staff.

Many nonprofits expect their board members to be actively involved in fundraising. However, few administrators take the time to actually train their board in how to be effective fundraisers. And if you aren’t training them, who is?

Use your retreat to re-engage your board members in fundraising. Provide exercises and scenarios to help them get over their fear of fundraising and help them learn from one another. Also, explore with them ways that the board can be involved in fundraising beyond making “the big ask” (more on this next month).

Benefits of Holding a Retreat Off-Site

A board retreat should take place away from the site of daily business, if possible. This provides a different perspective and going to a new location helps to generate creative and strategic thinking among the group.

Whenever I facilitate a retreat, I push hard to have it held off-site. When there has been resistance, it is inevitably because of cost. However, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a fancy retreat location. Perhaps one of your board members has an office with a spacious meeting room you could use. Or you could approach the bankers and attorneys who service your organization (whom you are already paying via their fees) and ask them to use that lovely board room that is going unused. They might even offer to donate lunch for the retreat. Remember, it never hurts to ask.

Pros and Cons of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator

The only downside of hiring an outside facilitator is the cost. That’s it. However, if you approach this as an investment in your board and, ultimately in mission fulfillment, then it is well worth the expense.

The benefits of hiring a consultant as a facilitator include providing expertise and professionalism to your retreat. An experienced facilitator can be an invaluable resource in retreat planning and execution.

They ensure that retreats are efficient and effective, hold workshops and exercises that help you reach your goals and elevate the event’s importance.

Facilitators who are unencumbered by existing politics can provide a unique perspective, guide discussions and decision making. They also help to develop a relevant agenda, facilitate group activities and keep the retreat on schedule.


There are many ways to design a board retreat, but be sure that it is well planned and has realistic and meaningful objectives. Getting full commitment from the board and executive leadership is key.

Don’t forget to allow time for informal interactions among board members. They don’t often have time to connect and foster relationships; a retreat is a prime opportunity to do so.

Wishing you all the best for your board retreat and to having an exceptional, engaged board of directors!

For more information on board retreats, contact us at Info@AccreditationGuru.com or 212.209.0240.

Succession Planning – It’s Not All About You

At some point, every organization will face the challenges of a change in leadership. Though many of these transitions are anticipated – like when a CEO or board chair retires – other times, agencies are faced with the task of filling an unexpected opening.

Nonprofit organizations are known for doing their best to provide stellar services to those in need while working with limited funding and, often, fewer human resources personnel than the typical for-profit company. It’s the nature of the business.

The key to making any leadership change a seamless process for staff and clients alike is to thoughtfully develop a succession plan along with intact, actionable policies that will guide your decisions and help your organization Prepare for Greatness!™

Avoid Service Disruptions by Developing a Plan

Planning ahead is essential – before potential shake-ups take up valuable resources. Always include the executive leadership staff and the board of directors in succession planning and its implementation. Get them onboard for developing an emergency transition plan that outlines the delegation of responsibilities and authority in the event of an unplanned vacancy or leadership disruption.

For planned leadership transitions, map out an appropriate timeline for a smooth transition. This also helps ensure that a proper support system is in place for new leaders, including mentoring opportunities and well-defined goals for the individual and the organization as a whole.

Getting buy-in from the principal people in the organization helps keep everyone focused on developing the most beneficial policies. Make it an organizational goal to support new leadership, allowing him or her to develop a personal comfort level and lead with confidence.

Though obvious, it bears repeating: Communication is paramount. Throughout the entire transition process, it is essential to maintain fluid lines of communication within all levels of the organization.

Develop a Process to Ensure Smooth Transitions

If your organization puts policies into place, they should be thoughtfully analyzed, planned and reviewed – just as agencies do for budgeting, daily operations, strategic planning and other essential functions.

Ensure continuity by developing a list of potential leadership successors based on the ability to enhance and capitalize on individual strengths and effectively match the best candidate to the most appropriate position.

Because nonprofits must generally do more with less, it is beneficial to create ample opportunities for staff and board members to cross-train and/or broaden their leadership skills so that there are several individuals at the ready to step into larger roles with more responsibility when the time comes.

Give special attention to developing your organization’s group of talent. Concentrate your valuable resources on educating and strengthening the skills of your agency’s leadership candidates to build a reserve of exceptional contenders when the time arises.

When compiling your candidate list, be sure to consider challenges such as maintaining an adequate amount of staff diversity, recruitment of a wide range of individuals who provide the skills your agency will need in the future, and long-term employee retention.

Another potential affliction for nonprofits is Founder’s Syndrome, where an organization’s founder or other long-employed leader feels that no one will be able to do all of the work required and/or care more about the mission and staff than he or she does. If a founder refuses to partake in succession planning the entire enterprise can be jeopardized when he or she leaves – or dies. It is up to the board to assert its oversight and prepare for the inevitable transfer of power if the entity is to survive.

Consider Best-Case and Worst-Case Scenarios

Incorporate various situations into your planning. It is easier to prepare for a months-long, anticipated CEO retirement than it is when a key employee takes a job at another organization without warning or requests a leave of absence for several months to care for a stricken parent or recover from an injury.

Consider whether installing an interim leader into a management position would be of greater benefit to your organization than quickly placing someone in a position just to get it filled. This is especially important for the highest-level positions in the agency where it may be beneficial to seek outside candidates for consideration.

And, of course, thoughtful and timely communication before, during and after the transition of leadership positions supports the success of both the individual and your organization as a whole so that the focus will remain on what you are all there to do – fulfill your mission of serving others.

With proper planning beforehand, the stress of selecting a high-level replacement and transitioning that person into the job will be much easier to accomplish. By implementing these tips and instituting a process, you can help your organization Prepare for Greatness!™ when faced with potentially disruptive personnel changes.


The Alliance’s New “Operations Support Services”

As a partner of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, Accreditation Guru is excited to share with you their new and game-changing “Operations Support Services” offering for the nonprofit sector. This offering is intended to help leaders address provision of operations support services related to human resources, finance, administrative operations, and more. This is available to ALL nonprofits in the United States, not just Alliance member organizations.

Across the country, daily tasks, ranging from detailed budget reports to regular donor stewardship, siphon limited energy and resources that could be better directed toward program implementation. Because dollars available for overhead functions are particularly scarce, nonprofits should look for smart ways to maximize these resources. For organizations that cannot cost-effectively sustain internal capacity and expertise in administrative functions, the gap will continually widen and plague their abilities to focus and execute on their missions.

The Alliance is dedicated to helping community-based organizations (CBOs) bolster their approach to risk management, improve the effectiveness of fund usage, and understand the benefit of shared services—all of which allow for an increased focus on mission and people served. The “Operations Support Services” offering was created to help fulfill the five identified “North Star” initiatives in the landmark report, “A National Imperative: Joining Forces to Strengthen Human Services in America,” by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and the American Public Human Services Association.

By partnering with the Alliance, CBOs can outsource various financial and administrative duties for which internal capacity and resources may be limited. As part of this new venture, the Alliance also is offering competitive and robust benefits packages, enhanced retirement planning services, and comprehensive EAP and work-life services to their employees at a reasonable cost, regardless of their size. In addition, the Alliance’s unemployment tax program combats hidden expenses, avoids claims volatility, and enables better management of cash flow and claim tracking.

The Alliance has established many strategic partnerships to facilitate provision of operations support services that can be customized for any size nonprofit:

  • Flexible accounting and bookkeeping assistance delivered directly by Alliance staff
  • Comprehensive, competitively priced group health insurance packages offered via industry
    leaders that cover thousands of companies and hundreds of thousands of lives
  • Employee assistance and work-life services from FEI Behavioral Health, the Alliance’s
    social enterprise
  • The ability to provide a wide range of retirement plans and planning services to employees,
    with the added value of no administrative fees
  • A cost-effective alternative to the state unemployment tax system
  • Access to group purchasing savings programs

“Along with our expertise in human resources, finance, and administrative operations, it is our intent to enhance and expand our support services to help leaders address needs related to fundraising and development; marketing, public relations, and communications; and information technology,” explains Lenore Schell, Alliance senior vice president of strategic business innovation.
For more information, visit the Alliance’s website.

2017 Blog Recap

Did you miss any of our Accreditation Guru blog posts during the past year? We published nearly 25 informative articles on topics ranging from accreditation preparation to nonprofit management to issues affecting the behavioral healthcare field. Below we have highlighted some of our most popular posts from 2017 that may be worth a second look for your organization as you beginning planning for the New Year. Thank you for being loyal followers in 2017. We look forward to providing you with more informative posts in 2018! Here’s to the happiest of New Years!


Nonprofit Management and Boards of Directors

Behavioral Healthcare

AG’s own Corporate Social Responsibility

And don’t forget our popular series “Accreditation in Action,” which highlights organizations across the country and how they benefit from being nationally accredited.

Happy reading!

Annual Plan is Strategic Plan’s Greatest Tool for Success

Most nonprofit organizations have (or should have!) a long-term strategic plan, one that they have spent a great deal of time and resources to develop. By engaging various staff, board members and stakeholders, the strategic planning process can be an effective way to identify strategies that will support the organization as it strives to fulfill its mission. As stellar as the strategic plan may be, however, unless its strategies are methodically put into action, the plan itself becomes inconsequential to the agency’s operations.

Generally speaking, a strategic plan covers a three-to-five-year period (most common is three years) – which in today’s real-time, fast-paced operating environment can seem daunting to even the most seasoned nonprofit leaders. This is where an annual plan can become a strategic plan’s greatest tool for success. First, it is essential to understand the difference between the two. A strategic plan clearly defines the organization’s mission, lays out a vision of what it wants to achieve over the next few years, and defines several strategic priorities designed to guide the agency toward mission fulfillment. This is the framework for what is to come. An annual plan – or work plan – is staff-driven, designed with specific objectives, outcome measures, and areas of responsibility (including timelines) in order to provide the day-to-day guidelines needed to ensure the strategic goals are ultimately met.

We’ve gathered these key considerations to help create a valuable and effective annual plan:

  • Be sure annual planning remains an inclusive process for everyone involved, including internal and external parties; when people feel personally connected they are more likely to take ownership and responsibility for the tasks at hand
  • List only the strategies to be implemented during the coming year; this keeps focus on the short-term as well as laying out a manageable, rather than overwhelming, plan for the next year
  • Break down annual strategies into smaller goals that are assigned to specific areas or individuals, including due dates and follow-up procedures
  • Expect that future events will often cause the need to reevaluate and perhaps even change the course of part of the plan; being ‘at the ready’ and adaptable to unforeseen events will only help to move both plans forward!
  • Annual plans may also incorporate other regular planning processes, including review of the technology and information management plan, financial planning, human resources planning, etc.
  • The annual plan is precisely the place to be specific; use a variety of tools here that will highlight the details of the plan’s successes and shortcomings, such as metrics, measurements, or any other analytical tools that are relevant to evaluating the plan’s overall goals