January 22, 2019
I often struggle to help nonprofits differentiate between what is important and what is strategic. I know from experience that recognizing that is one is not synonymous with the other can be the difference between a positive experience and yet another frustrating attempt at strategic planning. But how do you help someone whose daily existence consists of hacking away weeds and putting out fires just to maintain organizational equilibrium (metaphor foul?) set all that aside and become “more strategic”?
In my own latest iteration, I have come to explain it this way. First, there are foundational issues that have to do with organizational stability. Under this category are things like internal processes, staff productivity, facilities, and IT. Yes, these things are important. In fact, I would argue that until these things are settled (that is, until the organization has reached a level of stability relative to its lifecycle stage), it has no business thinking too much about strategy.
When do issues rise to the level of being considered strategic? Strategic issues are those that address the following three questions:
To ilustrate, consider the example of board development. On the one hand, every nonprofit needs a board that meets its governance responsibilities. That is important. But if that same nonprofit has determined that for it to enhance its mission impact and sustainability, it must become more involved in fundraising, then board training become of stratgic importance.
Important things do not go away because they are not strategic. However, recognizing the difference between the two types of priorities will help the organization decide whether it should focus on strengthening the ship before setting out toward a far-off destination.
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