Strategic plans can seem out of reach for most nonprofits. After all, who can afford pricey consultants and all that time filling out surveys and in meetings when there’s work to be done? Truth be told, I felt the same way working at small nonprofits.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this webinar, we went through the six components of a strategic plan that you can DIY with just you or a handful of volunteers. Here’s a quick summary of the key components to get you started with strategic planning without pricey consultants, large budgets, or lots of staff. Take a look at the webinar below and Cherian’s slides for a deeper dive into each concept.
People are both the means of your organization succeeding and the ends of your organizational success. When organizations lose track of the people that are working in, working with, or working around, there’s truly no way they can succeed. In the planning process, it’s important to ask yourself the question: who should be excluded from the planning process and why? Start from the assumption that everyone, such as the receptionist, the part-time employee, the contractor, the volunteer, and the introductory level donor, has something meaningful to add to your process.
Data is the buzziest of buzz words and it’s easy to get excited about being a “data-driven nonprofit.” In reality, we often fall into the trap of committing what I call the Seven Deadly Sins of Data that ultimately involves not distinguishing signal from noise. Good planning requires getting the right data at the right time in the right format to be able to use it to draw the right conclusions.
Once you’ve collected your quantitative and qualitative data, the next thing to realize is that data needs interpreting. All data tells a story and this step requires bringing together those that will discuss the data elements and the narratives around those data points. This will require a good amount of time and analysis because this process needs to be directional. Good organizational strategy starts from the assumption that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. Bad organizational strategy dismisses the possibility of a problem and seeks to re-entrench the way things have always been done. When we locate some core problems, we can move on to the next step.
Strategy is about making a decision. Decision comes from the Latin word decidere, which literally means to “cut off.” Your organization (and any, whether a Fortune 500 or a $50,000 nonprofit) needs to make hard decisions about what to do and, more importantly, what NOT to do. What does your plan permit and what does your plan prohibit you from doing? This is where strategy goes wrong and into the territory of goal setting — and goal setting is not strategy. Nor is resource allocation. Strategy is the diagnosis of a problem, defining a guiding policy, and determining coherent, coordinated actions to address that problem. (See Richard Rumelt)
The plan itself is the easy part. Once we have gone through the deliberation and come to a decision regarding “what’s really happening” in our organization as well as the actions that will result in effecting change in that problem, it’s a matter of putting it on a single sheet of paper. The joke is that the strategic plan happens and then goes on a shelf because it’s not relevant to day-to-day use. The relevant information on a one-page document should not only be daily guide, but also a living, breathing document that adapts as people, data, and other circumstances change.
Having a strategy is not the same as working the strategic plan. Leadership is often mischaracterized as vision casting or goal setting and then coaching your team to perform. But real leadership is about applying proactive and reactive principles towards aligning your entire organization including people, process, and profits (meaning your available financial resources) towards addressing the problem you have diagnosed. Each individual’s life experience and education makes them an expert in their ability to address that problem so you, as a leader, are charged with proactively giving them the tools and reactively removing barriers from their doing their best work.
If you’re smart, and I know you are, you realize we’ve come full circle from people back to people.
Strategy doesn’t need to be a fancy concept that’s overly mechanized and out-of-touch with the day-to-day work we all do in our nonprofits. But some times we lose track of good strategy to solve productivity or time management problems instead of thinking at a higher level about what actually needs to be done and when. In nearly all cases, the hallmark feature of good strategy is this: less is more.
Cherian Koshy, a Network for Good Personal Fundraising Coach and host of our recent webinar on crafting your small nonprofit strategy, is back with six things to keep in mind as you develop a strategic plan for your organization.