The Third Deadly Sin of Nonprofit Strategy, Guest Blog by Rob Sheehan

June 2, 2014

Guest Blog by Rob Sheehan, Principal, Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting, Associate Member of Maryland Nonprofits
Read the original blog here

Like so many sins, this one starts out innocently enough.

An organization has financial challenges and decides it needs a big new fundraising campaign—maybe even a capital campaign. Then someone remembers that a big fundraising effort will need to be explained as being part of a strategic plan. So they hasten to throw together a strategic plan that justifies the campaign. The final product says “Strategic Plan,” but it is essentially a fundraising plan.

So what? Why am I making such a big deal out of this?

Well, a strategy is more than a fundraising plan. And the process I described above is anything but strategic. A strategy needs to take a big picture look at the organization, its future, and its environment. Otherwise, opportunities and challenges can be missed. Here are issues I see that are often overlooked when the strategy development process has an over-emphasis on fundraising:

Performance Metrics are usually not clarified, beyond “raising more money.” Strategy development is an ideal time to ask yourself “how do we know we are accomplishing our mission and what metrics are we going to use to determine that.” Without those metrics you won’t know if you are accomplishing your mission, no matter how much money you raise.

Weaknesses or Threats not related to fundraising can be overlooked. Examples: What about human resources issues? Is the staff design sustainable? What about succession planning at the senior levels? The first baby boomers are turning 65 this year.

Strengths or Opportunities not related to fundraising can also be overlooked. Examples: Can we leverage our good reputation to create strategic alliances that will increase our impact? Would a merger be an opportunity to be more efficient and increase impact? These are questions that many funders are asking.

Innovation in Program Delivery is often not considered. Do we need to raise 25% more money to deliver more programs/services or do we need to innovate on how we deliver the programs? Maybe both!
These are just examples of the types of questions that can be asked if an organization broadens its view beyond the need for more money and actually takes a “strategic” approach to developing its strategic plan.

The crying need for funding for most nonprofits makes this sin understandable, but I encourage you not to commit it. By overlooking some of these other strategic issues you can undermine your fundraising plan and end up in even worse shape.

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