January 11, 2022
Recently, I read a strategic plan from a nonprofit that was built around the following four strategic imperatives:
My question to the nonprofit – and to the consultant that guided the planning process – is this: under what strategic scenario would a nonprofit not pursue these four “imperatives”? In other words, where’s the strategy?
On their own, the four statements represent a set of important goals that guide any organizational development effort. But let’s not confuse the important with the strategic. Strategy is about positioning your organization so that you can create the greatest mission impact in the most sustainable manner. An effective strategic position is one in which:
Unquestionably, the best strategic vision means nothing without the activities needed to support it. However, detailed plans are predicated on a clear understanding of where you are going. To test this, ask yourself this question: If every tactic in our plan is completed, will we have progressed strategically? The fact is that we cannot answer that question without a clear strategic scenario (or vision if you prefer) to provide context. Consider these scenarios:
Nonprofits have lifecycles. Each lifecycle brings with it a specific set of questions related to the relevance, impact, and sustainability of the organization. This grand scenario shapes the questions that will in turn give substance to priorities for program development, organizational capacity, and external relations. Typical questions include:
To illustrate, consider a large nonprofit that decides to reposition itself from a residential program built on county agency referrals, to a community-based service provider (i.e., no referral needed). Unlike a comprehensive marketing plan, which assumes that everyone is a potential client, referral source, or funder, the strategic marketing needs of this organization revolve around the need to reframe its image in the minds parents, school counselors, and peer providers. There is nothing generic about this.
The same is true for revenue diversification. Notwithstanding the “eggs in a single basket” parable, significant revenue diversification is not possible or even appropriate for some nonprofits. For example, recent research shows that large nonprofits achieve long-term stability by homing in on one major revenue source that is connected to the mission. For others, diversification is difficult due to the nature of their work. Tinkering around the margins of a significant – and perhaps reliable – revenue source is not diversification and can waste a lot of valuable time and money that could be better spent on direct mission impact.
Those of us of a certain age remember the “where’s the beef” commercials. The point of the commercial was to point out that it’s not the lettuce, pickle, or special sauce that makes the burger. It is the meat. Likewise, I advise you to not mistake the dressing of data tables and formal documents for actual strategy.
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