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Advancing Your Society through Strategic Planning


The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

- Albert Einstein

Change is difficult. You may know that your Scottish heritage society may been to operate differently or perhaps you feel you need to take another direction. Instead of relying on your gut instinct or the opinions of your leadership team, you can chart a path guided by information from your own constituents.


You can accomplish this through strategic planning. This is a process in which you define your broad objectives, gather information from your constituents about your organization and its environment, establish achievable numeric goals, determine the general approach to achieving those goals (the strategies), creating concrete projects within those strategies (the tactics), setting priorities and assignments for specific individuals, creating a timeline, evaluating the effectiveness of the tactics and strategies compared to your goals, and then revising your strategic planning.

Objectives and Goals


For most Scottish heritage societies, the objectives should be straight forward: increase membership and improve internal management. Your numeric goals may be to increase paid membership by 5% per year or perhaps diminish attrition by 10% and to provide a monthly report within 10 days of the end of every month with finance, membership, and marketing updates.

Gathering Information


Before you can develop strategies, you need a clear sense of where you are as an organization and how you are perceived within the world in which you operate. Operationally, you should determine, among other factors:


  • Expenses and revenues by category for the past three years, with annual percentage changes

  • Membership numbers for the past three years, with renewal rates and new member acquisition percentages

  • Tenure and demographics of the current leadership, identifying any gaps

  • Nature of the governing body, i.e., whether each individual on the Board has a specific role (functional Board) or whether each serve “at-large” without a specific portfolio (ego-driven non-functional Board.)

  • New content-driven information presented to constituents on the website and social media, based on the number of new web articles and posts annually for the past three years.

  • Communications with non-Board leaders, members, and potential members as determined by the number of group e-mails or newsletter annually for the past three years.



Next you need to survey your main constituents: your current leadership, active paid members, lapsed members, and potential members such as those individuals on your free e-mail list or those who sign up at events but never commit to membership. Learn more about Conducting Surveys and see examples of questionnaires and results here:


Once you have the results of the surveys, you can conducted a “SWOT” analysis with your leadership and key  members in a focus group. “SWOT” refers to the Strength and Weaknesses of the internal aspects of the organization and Opportunities and Threats of the environment in which you operate. Here are some of the questions you need to ask yourselves for each category:



  • What do you do well? E.g., are clan convenors successful in gaining new members?

  • What unique resources can you draw on? E.g., what untapped skills do your leaders possess

  • What do others see as your strengths? E.g. do you have a good reputation among members?



  • What could you improve? E.g., are your members declining?

  • Where do you have fewer resources than others? E.g., how strong are your fundraising efforts?

  • What are others likely to see as weaknesses? E.g., do your constituents feel ignored?



  • What opportunities are open to you? E.g., what external partnerships and support services are available?

  • What trends could you take advantage of? E.g., generally are more people interested in heritage?

  • How can you turn your strengths into opportunities? E.g. can your leadership use their networks to build new partnerships?



  • What threats could harm you? E.g., are young people less likely to attend Scottish heritage events and more likely to engage online?

  • What is your competition doing? E.g., are other heritage and clan societies recruiting members more successfully?

  • What threats do your weaknesses expose to you? E.g., do your members feel ignored because more of them are using social media?


For an example of a SWOT organizational analysis, see the COSCA Strategic Planning Committee Report: June 2021.



Strategies and Tactics


You can them develop broad strategies in order to take advantage of your strengths and weaknesses and to mitigate your weaknesses and threats. Within each strategy, you can identify tactics or specific projects.


Building Membership.

  • Reviewing paid members status monthly and sending regular renewal notices in order to reduce attrition

  • Offering incentives for paid membership such as access to a “members only” section of the website. For example, the Clan Forbes Society sent to all members a free copy of the publication House of Forbes for Kids, which was underwritten by donations.

  • Reassessing participation at games and festivals based on return on investment (ROI) of paid members, identifying more productive events in terms of acquiring members, and placing adverts in program guides instead of participating in person

  • Promoting membership and services in alternative ways such as social media or large non-Scottish in-person events that attract a younger audience


Creating Content.

  • Reassessing your current online content and determining whether it needs to be updated and could be re-purposed into individual blogs

  • Subscribing to general Scottish heritage print and online resources to find information regarding your clan

  • Conducting historical research on your clan surnames online and in the COSCA Research Library to write interesting new articles (see

  • Solicit information from your members about their genealogical research and trips to Scotland


Broadening Communication.


Improving Management.

  • Ensuring that your society has a “Standard Operating Procedure” (SOP) manual with necessary online credential that all leaders can access, in order to ensure continuity of operations in case one individual is no longer engaged with the organization (see Policy and Procedure Manual at

  • Shifting all official society e-mail communication away from personal accounts and “gmail” services to an accessible online e-mail service using the domain name of your website, in order to ensure continuity of operations

  • Making each Board member accountable for a specific, quantifiable activity or role in order to move from a non-functioning “at-large” Board to a functioning Board

  • Maintaining financial records online in order to increase accountability and in order to ensure continuity of operations


Implementation and Evaluation


Once you have identified specific tactics within each strategic area, you will need to determine a priority for each and assign responsibility to a specific person within the organization. You may find that no one want to take responsibility for a high priority activity. In that case, you may have to hold off until you can recruit the right individual. With your strategic planning team, work out a reasonable timeline based on the steps required for each activity and the time availability of the volunteer.

Review progress of each tactic on a regular basis in order to encourage accountability. Evaluate your strategies and tactics based on completion or implementation dates and the quantifiable goals you set at the onset. Adjust as needed or re-assign the activities. Review the status of your strategic planning process on an annual basis and start the process over again in three to five years.

COSCA Assistance

COSCA can assist you every step of the way. You can review the samples provided and browse the news from other similar Scottish heritage societies. We can also provide you with a mentor to advise you. For more information, contact Bart Forbes at

See the COSCA Strategic Planning Committee Report of June 2021 here.

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