March 18, 2021
We have all seen the inflatable air dancers flailing about in front of car dealerships. These creatures are a fitting metaphor for the experience of the nonprofit organization. Both must remain nimble, as they are continually responding to the changing external conditions. More important, neither can control or predict the inevitable shifts in the direction of the wind. For nonprofits, these shifts are in the form of emerging client needs, shifting funder priorities, and the arrival of new competitors.
These comparisons, however apt, miss what I consider to be the defining feature of the air dancer. Though it is continually blown about in unpredictable ways, the creature never leaves its spot. How and when it moves will always be outside of its control. Where it stands, however, is pre-determined and fixed. In other words, it is anchored.
Likewise, nonprofit strategy is about finding firm grounding so that your organization can respond in times of upheaval without losing focus on what matters most. What are the anchoring points of nonprofit strategy? The heaviest aspect of the strategy anchor is the program position, which defines what you will do, for whom, and to what end.
If yours is like many other nonprofits, your programs range from those that hit the bull’s eye of your program position, to those that are more out toward the margins. It is exactly for this reason that anchoring is important. The fact is that not all programs are of equal strategic value to your nonprofit.
Nonprofit anchoring is based on clarify and consensus around three foundational questions:
Who needs you most?
What do they need most from you?
How do you define success for the people you serve?
These questions are intended to evoke deeper discussion among board and staff about the essential elements of the organization. It is from this that strategy emerges in the form of broad priorities supported by a set of criteria, considerations, and trigger points that guide program and resource decisions.
We don’t know when the wind will blow, from what direction, or at what strength. Occasionally, we will experience gale-force winds like Covid-19. Just as consequential, however, are those occasional gusts that arise unexpectedly. In either case, it is important that we feel grounded in a set of values and priorities that allow us to respond in a manner that preserves the essence of who we are as an organization.
Need Additional Assistance?
If you are interested in going deeper into your nonprofit strategy or if you wish to review your organizational strategy more
broadly, click the link below to schedule a 30-minute phone or zoom consultation with Mike Stone.
Sign up to stay connected