Strategic Planning for Your Watershed Group

Watershed Groups: What is your strategy?

I’m here to talk with you about strategic planning. You may feel that this is not a very glamorous topic (why are we not talking about splashing around in streams and maximizing our tire collection score??), but an understanding of how a plan can make your team more effective may make you feel more excited than you thought. This post is meant to be a starting guide for your group, and if you have more questions after you read it, please contact us!


You have joined a watershed group because you care about your corner of the world and you want to make a difference. Planting trees, cleaning up trash, educating others, and making informed choices in your own life are all critical to improving your watershed; however, you can maximize the effectiveness and longevity of your watershed group if you lay out a thoughtful and practical plan.


There are a few ways to approach strategic planning for your watershed group, ranging from finding a grant to pay a consultant a hefty sum (not necessary for smaller groups) to talking together as a group to come up with a simple, clear approach to meeting goals.


In addition to how you will develop a strategic plan, your group must also decide how far into the future you would like to plan. Your watershed group does not have to set goals for 10 years from now- outlining a few goals for the next year to 18 months is just as important. Plans can change quickly, and sticking to a few important short-term goals is a great approach. Your group can also create a vision for the future, which can hang in the background as you create tangible steps for the next couple of years.


What is important to your group? Every watershed group is different.

Some common goals set by watershed groups:

  • Expand and maintain volunteer base
  • Expand activities (tree planting, litter cleanups, education and outreach)
  • Complete a big project in your watershed (AMD, riparian restoration)
  • Cultivate relationships with your home municipalities
  • Expand social media presence
  • Recruit new board members with particular skill sets (science, communications, fundraising) and/or diverse background (sex, gender, race) 



Things to consider

Not everyone on your board may have an interest in creating a strategic plan. Everyone should be encouraged to provide feedback and approve a final plan, but it is typical for a smaller committee to create a document for board comments and approval.  

Where to start

The SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)

Begin with listing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats faced by your organization, and use this table to analyze their interrelation. 

Begin with listing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats faced by your organization, and use this table to analyze their interrelation. 


This is a living document

Things change and your group can modify as it sees fit.


Simple plans are A OKAY

The purpose of a strategic plan is to set reasonable, practical goals for your group to accomplish. Set a goal and include the key steps to get there.


Typical Content in a Strategic Plan


1.      Your Group’s Mission Statement

2.      Program Goals/Organization Goals/Specific Project Goals


Maintain/improve water quality in the watershed;

Increase and maintain membership base;

Increase social media presence;

Obtain funding for streambank restoration project

3.      Action Steps for each goal


Identify sources of pollution/establish water quality sampling regimen

Increase promotion of volunteer activities + provide online newsletter

Create accounts for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram + establish a posting schedule

Research grant opportunities and establish a grants point person/group


Include any relevant resources needed, identify ownership of goals (e.g. Rebecca’s job to research grants/ Matt’s job to organize social media accounts


This is just a snapshot of a strategic plan! Look at other watershed group’s strategic plans online. There are also a lot of great articles online on putting together your group’s strategic plan. As always, please reach out if you would like to talk more.