Reimagining your Nonprofit Strategy: A Reflection

May 29, 2020

Maryland Nonprofit’s webinar Pivoting for the Future: Reimagining your Nonprofit Strategy provided some ideas about thoughtful and deliberate decision-making during a volatile and uncertain time beyond crisis management. Several common themes emerged throughout the webinar with nonprofits thirsty for that one answer that will fuel them through the unknown. But the trick is that there is not one method that will be right and works for all types of nonprofits. The simple divergence on how we are now defining short- and long-term impact requires leadership teams to transform in ways that are unprecedented.

Depending upon the organization and circumstances, the timeframes around short- and long-term recovery planning from 2-3 weeks to six months and beyond. Our timelines are built upon a set of conditions unique to our mission, the populations we serve, and what is most critical now. Instead of basing things on previous notions of what timeframe constituted the short and long term, base them on the change that you are intending to see. Define timeframes that work for your organization to respond to community needs. Then, with the continual examination of your progress, you will evolve accordingly.

While we are in the middle of significant stress and constant unknowns, a few things remain true and easy to activate. Your values (both personal, professional, and organizational) are the drivers of your decisions.  And just as the organizational values may be slightly similar from mission to mission, there is a substantial amount of creativity and truth that goes into identifying and carrying out those basic beliefs.  Your values were clear before COVID-19 and they will be even more profound as we traverse our way through the uncertainty of the pandemic. Your values define how you build your programs, how you serve community members, how your staff shoulders their duties and relationships, how you connect with donors and partners…and now they guide leadership teams in making extremely difficult decisions.  All the while we are traversing through territory that is completely unknown. We have never been in a pandemic before.  We have never tried to keep our organizations and services afloat while being cordoned off in our homes.

Remember your values. Talk about them, share them, provide them to your board members. Have difficult conversations with your values having a prime seat at the table. Read them over daily, and then…make them work a little harder to welcome equity into the fold. Now more than ever nonprofits must stand up for each other and the communities we serve with deep compassion, relentless kindness, and unwavering enthusiasm.

This is a period to invent new and different ways of executing your programs and missions. Your creativity may come from people who normally are not invited into decision-making scenarios. Listen carefully to the people who know your mission best. Ask the staff, talk with the board, hear from community leaders. There is immense pressure to possess the answers and conform to a predetermined formula emulating what others are doing.  Amidst this pressure to continue serving our communities and keep our staff employed it is important to remember that what works for others may not work for your organization. Marvel at each other’s successes and carry on.

Creativity is key and it begins with finding time to think imaginatively and strategically. Every week set time aside to think. Take a sheet of paper, and favorite pen and sit somewhere with limited distractions (definitely no email). Start by writing your mission statement and pressing questions. Sit quietly and write down every thought that comes to you about the issue at hand. Don’t dismiss anything until you have seen in on the paper and given it some time to marinate. With enough undisturbed practice, you will find that your strategic thinking time helps you to see clearly and gives you the courage to press on. Your people need you to be strong, honest, loyal, trustworthy, loving, and open-minded as we look out for each other and set a course for a new, revitalized tomorrow.

As you begin your own conversations with the creatives in your organization think carefully about clearly defining timeframes that are specific to the changes you are working towards. Identify measures so that you can continually assess progress and evaluate your creative thinking and strategies. Invite our team at Maryland Nonprofits to be your thinking partner. It would be our honor.

Finally, please be kind to yourself. Holding the community, the staff, and the board on your shoulders is a massive job and requires significant time to rest and rejuvenate.

With compassion and kindness,

Wendy Wolff smiling during an online meeting.
This blog post was written by our caring and compassionate Director of Strategic Engagement, Wendy Wolff. Over the past two decades, Wendy has helped thousands of organizations and their people to create brighter futures for the communities in which they serve. Her excitement in working with the members of Maryland Nonprofits is infectious. She values the genius that each and every person brings to their role in the sector and works diligently to elevate any person that she engages with.