December 01, 2020
Have you ever known a couple who renewed their wedding vows after many years of marriage? It is a beautiful thing. Why do they do it? What is the value of repeating a promise in the midst of living out that promise? Is it a sign of a troubled marriage? Does it mean that doubt is creeping in? Quite the opposite. Renewing wedding vows is a reminder of what makes the relationship strong as well as a recommitment to those things that matter most in the relationship.
Strategy for a mature nonprofit, like recommitment in a mature marriage, is about affirmation. By the time an organization reaches the mature stage, it has gone through a period of trial and error (the startup stage), followed by a series of tradeoffs between its aspirations for mission impact and the limitations imposed by its operational capacity (the growth stage).
From a strategic standpoint, maturity for nonprofits is about two things. First, it is about recognizing the patterns embedded in the cumulative decisions made by the organization. Second, it is about recommitting to those elements of the organization that have either endured or emerged over time. The process of strategy affirmation for a mature nonprofit follows three steps.
1. Identify the organizational core.
The organizational core consists of the essential characteristics of the organization as revealed through its history. Deep reflection around these three questions will lead to the core of the organization:
a) Who needs you most?
b) What do they need most from you?
c) What are your defining qualities?
2. Assess the strategic value of each program.
Strategic value is a function of two considerations. First, how strongly does each program reflect the elements of the organizational core? Second, what is the financial standing of each program? Differentiating programs and services by these two criteria sets the stage for further discussions aimed at managing the tradeoffs necessary to achieve the greatest mission impact in the most sustainable manner.
3. Reallocate time and resources as necessary.
Bigger is not always better. However, a deeper or broader mission impact is always better. The mature organization will look internally to ensure it is spending time, energy, and money on those services that have the highest strategic value.
Not every nonprofit reaches a mature stage. Even those that do run the risk of slipping backward if they become complacent. Mature organizations, like mature relationships, require vigilance to ensure that the fundamentals remain strong. More importantly, both occasionally need to be reminded of why it was founded and why it still matters.
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