The Seven Deadly Sins of Nonprofits

July 23, 2014

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

Read the original blog here.

1. “IT’S JUST SITTING ON THE SHELF.”
The rest of the sins are not necessarily in order of severity, but this is #1 because it is so pervasive and represents a huge waste of money and time — from staff and volunteers. This sin can be deadly, indeed, when board members realize the hours they have wasted — making strategic plans that are never implemented. And for the attorneys on your Board, those are billable hours.

2. INSULAR MOUNTAINTOP PLANNING
It can be good for a strategy planning group to go to the “mountains” to get away from distractions to do work together. But, before you go, gather input regarding the organization’s future from stakeholders — and check in with them when you get back for more input before you publish and laminate the plan (Peter Block calls this error “leadership by lamination”).

3. OVER-EMPHASIS ON FUNDRAISING
“What?!?” “Impossible!” I can just hear my fund-raising colleagues’ reaction. Of course we frequently find new fund-raising initiatives as a part of a new strategy. The problem is that as these are highlighted, other important aspects of a strategy are under-emphasized — such as program innovation, leadership succession, strategic partnerships, and more.

4. TOO RUSHED
Rather than rushing (e.g., “We are doing our strategic plan at an all day retreat two weeks from Friday, are you available?”), it is wiser to take the time to thoughtfully design and implement a strategy development process. Of course, it should not take forever either. Taking the time can lead to inspiring visions, innovative strategies, and empowered stakeholders — which produce higher performance.

5. LOTS OF PLANS, NO STRATEGY
Strategic planning documents can contain volumes of plans, activities, and environmental analysis — but many don’t include a real “strategy.” A true strategy articulates the dynamic levers which will catapult an organization toward its desired future, as well as how its key operational areas will interact to create a cycle of higher performance.

6. NO ANNUAL REVIEW
No one can see into the future when developing a strategic plan! So, we make certain measured assumptions about the future — including changes in our internal and external environments. An annual review of assumptions and results is important to keep the plan relevant. You may not change your mission or vision, but you may need to change plans and activities.

7. NOT AMBITIOUS ENOUGH
A strategy and its associated goals and plans should be focused on a vision that is big, bold, and inspiring. Many strategic plans are based simply on an analytical forecast of the way things are currently headed. How dull. It was Goethe who said, “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men” and Mandela who stated, “Your playing small does not serve the world.”

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