October 28, 2020
If you have read any of my writing over the past ten years or so, there is a good chance you have heard me invoke these wise words from Michael Porter: the essence of strategy is deciding what not to do.
Nonprofits have plenty of reasons to take on and maintain a program. Among the most common are these three that often occur in tandem:
1. There is a need in the community.
2. It fits our mission.
3.There is a grant to fund it.
In other words, the default response to an opportunity that clears this low strategic bar is why not? This “strategy by default” – the accumulation of programs and services because you could not think of a compelling reason not to take them on – may seem okay as long as things are going as planned. But as we have learned over the past year, crisis conditions call for radical measures. One of those measures is raising the bar for strategic decision-making.
To enhance strategic decision-making, I recommend criteria built around the concepts of core and capacity. The assessment of capacity will help answer the question, could we? The capacity question is deceptively simple. There may be little doubt that your organization can “pull this off.”
But given that capacity (defined primarily as time, expertise, and infrastructure) is finite, the strategic consideration is how the introduction of the program will affect other programs. Will it draw time, energy, and resources away from other activities? Or might it create a spillover effect that benefits all that you do by attracting new resources and creating new energy?
The affirmation of the organizational core will help answer the questions, should we? For example:
• Will the program serve the most pressing needs of the people who need you most?
• Will the program move you toward the vision you have for your organization?
• Will we be able to attract the clients and the resources to support them?
The capacity and core criteria are useful anytime a nonprofit encounters an opportunity to add or expand a program. However, the criteria are equally as useful in times of crisis when the focus is on reducing expenses. With one simple flip of the tense, the same criteria can be used as a mechanism for differentiating existing programs.
The relevant questions are these: a) does the program serve the most pressing needs of the people who need us most? b) is the program moving us toward the vision we have for our organization? C) are we attracting the clients and the resources to support them? The survival instinct is a powerful one for organizations.
In times of crisis, structure and consistency are essential in making short-term decisions that do not jeopardize long-term mission impact.
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If you are interested in going deeper into your nonprofit strategy or if you wish to review your organizational strategy more
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