The Fifth Deadly Sin of Nonprofit Strategy: Lots of Plans, No Strategy

June 23, 2014

Guest Blog by Associate Member Rob Sheehan, Principal, Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting 

Read the original blog here.

When I ask for a copy of a strategy or a strategic plan, I usually get a lot of paper with plans and lists and budgets and—sometimes—a few vague goals. But rarely do I see a “strategy.”

So what is a strategy anyway? Keeping it simple, a strategy is a general explanation of how you are going to guide your organization’s performance into the future—from here to there. Essentially it is a “performance story.” It includes “themes” the organization is going to follow, not exact detailed plans. A strategy is like a tune played by a jazz group; everyone knows the tune to follow even though the exact notes aren’t scripted.

The first problem I find is that most “strategic plans” don’t tell you where the organization is going. What future are you pursuing? What is your vision? What are your goals? Where are you going? These questions are usually not answered.

Once you state the future you are heading toward, then you need to explain how you are going to get from here to there. To do this, you need clarity on your current reality—which we usually do by assessing your SWOTs (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).

Then it is time to create your strategy. Ask yourself these questions:

-How are we going to leverage our strengths to help us best pursue our future?

-How are we going to fortify our weaknesses to help us best pursue our future?

-How are we going to leverage our opportunities to help us best pursue our future?

-How are we going to block our threats to help us best pursue our future?

Once you have answered these questions, themes will arise—a story will emerge. You will begin to see which of the SWOTs will play more or less important roles in allowing you to most effectively pursue your future. Those themes begin to help you build your strategy narrative—your story of how you are going to pursue your future for the next five years or so.

Once you have a concise strategy narrative—of no more than three to four paragraphs—then it is something you can easily share within the organization and help make sure that everyone is following the same strategy. And what a great idea that would be.

I’ve been very simplistic here so this can be digested in a blog. If you want to read more, I have a couple of free articles on my web site or if you are really intrigued you can send $26.10 to Amazon for a copy of my book and read about this in more detail.

The 6th Deadly Sin is next: How can you keep a strategy relevant?

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