My Favorite Strategic Planning Exercise (That Also Makes Me Super Nervous!)

Sep 25, 2018

Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than people NOT knowing about your membership is when the perfect prospect DOES know about it but doesn't take action.

One of my favorite things to do is to facilitate live retreats. There’s something powerful about getting away from the ordinary routine, so that you can bust loose and think bigger.

Often, it’s a bit challenging to get into that visionary headspace. We tend to get tied down to what’s practical and all the work that needs to happen between where we want to be and where we are now.

That’s why I often pull out an exercise called “Cover Story”.

I think I saw the concept on Gamestorming several years ago, but it’s out there in a lot of places, so I really don’t know who originally created it. If you do, drop me a line and let me know… I like to give credit where credit is due… and it’s a really brilliant exercise.)

Now, I have to say that this exercise works beautifully, but it also makes me SUPER nervous every single time I use it as a facilitator. There’s something a wee bit nerve-wracking about handing a CEO, or a group of board members, a flip chart sheet and a bunch of markers.

You just never know how people are going to react – all the ‘but I’m not an artist’ insecurities bubble up.

The idea behind “Cover Story” isn’t to make something artistically gorgeous, but rather to spark creative thinking about the future.

Here’s how the exercise goes:

Fast forward five years into the future. You/your organization have been WILDLY successful and a reporter has created a magazine article that beautifully showcases your story. In fact, YOUR success is the magazine’s cover story.

For the exercise, you’re asked to design the cover of that magazine.

You get to decide WHICH magazine. You ALSO get to decide the headline, the image, the feature points of the article.

There’s just something about telling YOUR story in this way… from an external reporter’s perspective… that breaks you out of the ordinary and gets you thinking about what you do in a way that is newsworthy.

So far, I’ve never had an individual leader, or group, that didn’t come up with something pretty cool for their “Cover Story”. Even if they do look at me a little weird, or if it takes them a bit of time to get comfortable with the idea of coloring/drawing on their big magazine cover flip chart sheet.

It’s completely possible to do this exercise for ourselves individually, too. Simply draw a magazine cover on the back of a blank sheet of paper or in a personal journal. Choose your magazine, your headline, your images and your feature points of the article.

I’d LOVE to see the finished product, if you’re comfortable sharing.


Joy Duling is Founder and CEO of The Joy of Membership.  Since 2005, Joy and her team have helped associations, trade groups and membership-based nonprofits run their programs more easily and deliver exceptional member care.

You can find FREE tools, tips and training to help you run and grow your membership organization in The Joy of Membership Help Hub.



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