A. To put it simply there are concrete benefits to creating a plan. Why?
1 – Creating a plan will engage your board, lay leadership and staff to settle on goals for the next few years.
2 – If you are in an organization where there is an abundance of ideas of what should/could be done but lack of time and staffing necessary even to examine each idea, a strategic plan will help you determine how and where to allocate your resources.
3 – Every community has individuals who are sure that everyone would agree with their innovative ideas if only they were presented in the right way. Here is their chance! You will be providing a platform for anybody and everybody who wants a voice in the process to speak their mind. The organization may not decide to pursue those ideas, but the ideas will be heard, considered and a shared vision will emerge.
4 – Strategic planning can be a great community building activity.
5 – Stating goals helps achieve goals.
6 – Once the plan is produced, you have the perfect excuse to contact major donors and institutional funders for a meeting to hear their opinions – and not just another request for money.
And these are just a few of the benefits. Now to answer the rest of the question:
“Formal” can help further the process if you are referring to the discipline by which you approach the planning process. However, if by “formal” you mean that the final document should look a certain way, be printed by the ream and handed out to everyone as the future accomplishments you will achieve in the next four years, then you are on the wrong track. Strategic plans work best as living documents that can evolve with your organization. Four years can be a long time to be constrained by a vision in a world where the only constant is change.
As for “quadrennial,” the time frame varies from organization to organization. A newer organization with a goal to recruit ten new board members to achieve its goals may need a two-year plan. On the other hand, a mature organization that does not foresee any major shifts might benefit most with a four- or five-year plan. But, a nonprofit that has ten new board members and that is in a very dynamic place may consider a three-year plan. The key question is not how frequently to conduct a strategic planning process, but instead how to manage the implementation of the plan, evaluation of the results—and if necessary, modification of the strategies—on a quarterly basis.