An implementation plan or operational plan is simply the breakdown of a strategic plan into short-term and midterm activities through which the strategic goals outlined in a strategic plan can be achieved. The implementation plan must be broken down into specific programs or services through program design. A program design is a document that outlines sets of principles and procedures that must be implemented for a program to achieve its goals. Designing a social services system includes at least the following elements:

- Analysis of the social problem

- Determination of direct program beneficiary

- A conceptual framework

- Specification of services

- Required personnel

- Specification of helping environment

- Description of actual helping behaviors

- Identification of emotions and responses

Analysis of the Social Problem

The analysis of a social problem considers whether there is evidence of a problem for society, a problem for individuals, and factors contributing to the problem's existence or prevalence. As a problem for society, a program design should explain the extent to which an issue is a resource cost to society, a threat to the health and safety of members of society, and a threat to societal values, such as social integration. As a problem for individuals, a program design should describe how an issue constitutes a deprivation of a minimal standard of health and decency, a threat of abuse or exploitation, or a barrier to full social participation. Finally, the program design should inform about the factors that contribute to the problem's existence or prevalence (e.g., biological/physical, political, behavioral, societal, psychological, economic, community, and historical).

Determination of Direct Program Beneficiaries

The determination of direct program beneficiaries is very important for efficient and effective service provision. It is also important for performance measurement and accountability to various stakeholders. The program design should specify whether the beneficiaries will be:

- General population (e.g., children)

- At-risk population (e.g., children at-risk of abuse)

- Target population (e.g., children from a specific community, city, county, state, country)

- Client population ( number of clients in the target population the program will serve)

Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework is a reminder of the mission of the program or services that will be provided. The conceptual framework links your service concept (e.g., case management services) with a social or community issue that the program aims to change or influence (e.g., increase self-reliance and successful transition to safe and stable housing of battered women). The conceptual framework also includes the goals and objectives, as well as outcomes.

Service Procedures

The service procedures answer the questions:

- How will client enter the program?

- What is/are the intake procedure(s)?

- What services will be provided?

- What system of follow through will be in place?

- How will the system be evaluated?


The service design specifies the personnel who will be involved in every aspect of a service delivery system. Although teamwork is important for a system to be efficient and effective, task distribution is just as important. Every member of a team must know exactly what his or her primary role is. Then, he or she should know about his or her supporting role, which reflects the teamwork aspect. Teamwork "works" only when every member does his or her part and supports the part of another member. It is not either or. Both are essential. Therefore, a service delivery system must answer questions, such as:

- Who will manage the program?

- Who are the partners in managing the program?

- What will be the responsibility of the personnel?

Helping Environment

Service delivery in nonprofit organizations is another way of saying the organization is helping or providing assistance to others. The service will take place in a setting called the "helping environment." The helping environment can be the office of an organization (e.g., walk-in services). The helping environment can also be the home of the client (e.g., case management for children and families). The helping environment can be an outdoor setting (e.g., community event, assistance during a natural disaster). Regardless of the type of setting, the service delivery system must answer the question: Where will the service provision be taking place (e.g., agency office, client home, partner's agencies office)? The answer to this question is critical to clarify clients' expectations. If clients know that the service will be provided door to door, they will not go to an office. Inversely, if clients know that they have to walk to an office to receive a service, there is no expectation that they will receive this service at home.

Helping Behavior

People who receive assistance from nonprofit organizations are human beings. They may be in a situation in which they have lost almost everything and need help. However, there is one thing that every human deserves, and that these people who need help have not lost: dignity. Their dignity may have been compromised as a result of an accident, a catastrophe, negligence, or malfeasance. Yet, they have not lost it. The point is, they deserve the respect of the people who are helping them. I know people may say that those who need help owe respect to the people who are serving them. Yes, I agree! The other side of the coin is true as well: People who are helping also owe respect to their clients. Respect means that you see the good and hope in people who are in need, so that you can use any asset they have to empower them. The service delivery system should specify clear helping behaviors for staff when assisting or helping clients.

Emotions and Responses

Clients who need the assistance of a nonprofit organization are usually in a special emotional place because of their situation. Clients need help as a result of an event that affected their ability to assist themselves at a given time. This need never arises without some emotional pain. The service delivery system must anticipate possible emotional expressions. The service delivery design must answer the questions: What are the emotions most likely to be experienced by the client? What will be the staff responses? Not all scenarios will be anticipated. However, an organization should attempt to anticipate as many scenarios as possible, and learn about new scenarios during the helping process. This will positively affect the quality of service and client satisfaction.

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