‘Battle Plan’ brings focus, energy to corps

By David Ibata

“It begins with prayer and an honest assessment. Taking a look at where you have been and where you are now, helps us to move forward to the action steps of our soul-saving work.”— Captains Rob and Heather Dolby, Battle Plan Video No. 1: Getting Started.

When Captains Rob and Heather Dolby were appointed corps officers in Anderson, South Carolina, they found a situation typical of Salvation Army units around the country: It once had a very strong traditional program, but over the years, the community around it – and the needs of its neighbors – had changed.

It was time to come up with a Battle Plan.

“It’s really essential to the Battle Plan to ask the question: Is what’s happening inside the building reflective of who is living outside the building?” Captain Rob said.

The Battle Plan idea was pioneered under Lt. Colonel Eddie Hobgood, territorial secretary for programming, when he was divisional commander in North and South Carolina; and presented last fall at a territorial leadership conference for divisional officers.

Soon, everyone in the Southern Territory will be familiar with it. On Oct. 1, all corps are to have Battle Plans completed and ready to launch. Templates can be downloaded from ussbattleplan.org or Ministry Toolkit.

“The Battle Plan is a system we developed to help all corps come up with a strategic plan, utilizing all stakeholders: officers, soldiers, employees and advisory board members,” Lt. Colonel Hobgood said.  “It’s very simple, very concise. What I always say to people is, if you can’t read the whole thing in 10 minutes, it’s too long.”

A Battle Plan lists short-, mid- and long-term goals; and for each, a strategy to accomplish the goal. “It can be overwhelming, the dozens of things a corps has to deal with,” Lt. Colonel Hobgood said. Having a plan “is like the answer to the question, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Captains Dolby, now territorial mission specialists at Southern Territorial Headquarters in Atlanta, are charged with guiding local units to this new world. They debuted the plan at recent officers’ councils and created how-to-do-it online videos. They are now helping to walk each corps through the process.

“Beginning Oct. 1, every division and corps will not only complete their Mission Alignment Plan but engage and begin a Battle Plan,” Captain Rob said. Ultimately, he added, “it’s not just for corps, but for Boys & Girls Clubs, corps community centers, Kroc Centers and Adult Rehabilitation Centers.”

Captains Dolby speak from experience. To cite one goal achieved: The Anderson Corps operates the only shelter in its county for homeless residents. It desired to offer low-barrier access and access to families with children, with a promise no one would be turned away, if possible. How to achieve that?

“Access to a shelter begins with bed space,” Captain Rob said. “We made the commitment that we would increase bed space. That can be controversial. But we were big advocates of getting people off the street, which goes back to our ethos of ‘soup, soap and salvation.’ As our founder William Booth is credited with saying, ‘No one ever got saved with cold feet and an empty stomach.’”

By presenting a coherent vision, the Battle Plan convinced local donors – a combination of private and public givers – to provide the funds to build and operate a 50-bed expansion of the shelter.

“That was all enabled by our advisory board,” Captain Rob said. “We re-engaged existing members, and they recruited new members.”

“The Battle Plan is a living document, and we became accountable to it. And when we achieved our goals, that built trust. Today, the county and city have a significant level of trust with The Salvation Army.”

The Salvation Army Corps in Anderson, S.C., helped pioneer the Battle Plan, a strategy for setting and achieving mission goals, in the North and South Carolina Division. Those photos from the corps Facebook page, and captions adapted from the Battle Plan, illustrate examples of the simple, two-step methodology of the document: Setting Short-Term Priorities and Mid- and Long-Term Goals in the left-hand column, and reporting progress and results in the right-hand column. Watch God’s people at work!

Long-Term Goal: Ensure adequate office staff at Anderson Corps so office can sustain itself without officers doubling as department heads.

Action Plan: Create an office manager position; proposal at TSAMM (The Salvation Army Mission Management) for approval.

Short-Term Priority: Make all needed repairs to the canteen.

Action Plan: Find a new mechanic to replace retired mechanic; BFI (Blood & Fire Initiative) follows through with insurance claims from damage incurred during Hurricane Florence disaster service.

Long-Term Goal: Create a teen program at The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club.

Action Plan: In conversation with public library about partnering with their current teen space for a satellite location.

Mid-Term Goal: Increase operating reserves through media/grants.

Action Plan: Work with Anderson Independent, Channel 7/WSPA-TV, WHNS-TV/Fox Carolina News, for special stories in newspaper and on TV.

Short-term Priority: Complete building updates/repairs at The Salvation Army shelter for Anderson County homeless residents.

Action Plan: Flooring, HVAC, roof needs completed; plumbing needs in process, approved through TSAMM.

Lt. Colonel Hobgood said the drafting of a Battle Plan begins by looking at five main components of a corps: property, personnel, program, public relations and finance. A corps initially is challenged to identify three issues and develop an action plan to deal with each one, “then they keep track of how they’re doing until they’ve accomplished it. Once they’re done, they strike it off and come up with a new thing.

“It’s a living document, continually being populated,” Lt. Colonel Hobgood said. “The fact you’re putting it together with your stakeholders, rather than the officers doing it by themselves in a vacuum, means it’s what your corps and community really need the Army to do.”

Say a corps has a weak advisory board. The Battle Plan might have the corps officer work with his or her board to name prominent local businesspeople who share The Salvation Army’s vision. They would identify individuals – board members or their friends – who could make introductions to these executives and open the door to meetings to give a presentation about The Salvation Army and an invitation to join the advisory board.

“In the Carolinas, every quarter I would ask people to send me their revised Battle Plan – and if they hadn’t revised it since the last time, to tell me why,” he said. “We believe this helps every corps have a basic strategic plan, and they’ve not had to go out and pay $20,000 to have some consultant create it for them.”

The plan also organizes one’s calendar.

“The Battle Plan gives you the opportunity, first thing Monday morning, to come up with a to-do list for the week,” Lt. Colonel Hobgood said. “We all know life happens and some things on the list you never get to, but at least you’ve started the week being pro-active rather than re-active.”

THQ will look at corps battle plans as part of a division’s Command Annual Review. Shepherding officers in the divisions – “who work with, pray with and help corps assigned to them” – will be responsible for making sure the plans are done, Lt. Colonel Hobgood said.

“I hope next year we start Battle Plans here at territorial headquarters,” he said. “I want every department to do one. I think it will help us move forward even better than we’ve been able to do. My ultimate goal is to have every unit in the territory doing a battle plan.”

As the Anderson Corps forged ahead with renewed purpose, other positive things started happening.

“We saw a significant increase, more than a doubling, in the number of people attending corps programs and Sunday services, which accomplishes our mission of the soul-saving WHY,” Captain Rob said. “And we saw more lives being changed. In just two years, we saw three candidates come in for officers’ training.”

Nearly 70 percent of nonprofits – and this includes faith-based organizations – do not have a written strategic plan, the captain said. If they do, it’s in a binder on a shelf.

“If you walk into a corps and ask about their plan, they’ll often say it’s in our heads,” Captain Rob said. “The Battle Plan takes what is in our heads and hearts and puts it into actionable steps. Everybody on the team, from the receptionist to the officer to the advisory board chairman to the mayor, can tell you what The Salvation Army is, what It’s accomplishing, and why. It moves us from activity and doing to impacts and outcomes.”

Access more information about The Battle Plan here.