The Fourth Deadly Sin of Nonprofit Strategy: Too Rushed

June 13, 2014

Guest Blog by Rob Sheehan, Principal of Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting and Associate Member of Maryland Nonprofits

Read the original blog here.

I appreciate getting the calls, but I don’t feel like I can be helpful by the time they call.

“We have our strategic planning session scheduled for Friday afternoon, four weeks from now. Are you available to facilitate?”

I ask a couple of questions to make sure that I am not assuming too much. But almost always, my suspicion is confirmed—the organization has rushed through its strategy preparation and plans to rush through its strategy development process.

Rushing through Strategy Prep. There are a number of problems with this, including the fact that the organization has usually left out the idea of seeking any input from stakeholders (see The 2nd Deadly Sin). But it’s much more than that. How about taking some time to collect some environmental data that will be very helpful once you get into analyzing your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats? An environmental scan can help uncover important data and can assure that everyone on the strategic planning committee has the same information before you get started. This does not need to be a dissertation and you can often use easily available government data—if you don’t rush. And involving stakeholders does not need to take forever. But at least make sure you don’t ignore key constituencies like staff, donors, and volunteers.

Rushing through Strategy Development. If you are developing a strategy that is going to guide you for the next five years, then I strongly recommend that you take the time to thoughtfully deliberate what the best strategy is. I suggest setting aside at least two days for meetings. And you can only get done that quickly if you begin with everyone in agreement on your mission metrics. Effective decision making takes time, especially if your strategy committee is using consensus to make decisions—as most do. And you need time to do some real brainstorming and dreaming about your future. Inspiration cannot be rushed. Hopefully you will have some constructive conflict that needs to be discussed and worked through.

Like many of the sins, it is easy to see how so many organizations make this mistake. Nonprofits are trying to do much more with much less, even more so these days. So taking the time to prep properly and then deliberate thoroughly can seem like a luxury. Nonprofits know they need to do strategic planning—and maybe a funder is even requiring it. But taking the time to do it right is not a luxury at all. A new great strategy can more than help you make up for the time you invested in it.

Don’t fall prey to the temptation to cut this corner by rushing and end up with a half-baked strategy.

Deadly Sin #5 up next.

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