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By: Karen Eber Davis 

Strategic planning, as you know, is a must for your nonprofit. Why? If the mission is the heart of a nonprofit, and money is its lifeblood, then an effective strategy serves as the brain’s frontal lobes, guiding, aligning, and directing the organization’s actions

Why is strategic planning so critical? When a strategic plan is in place, your nonprofit shifts from reactive to proactive by following a meaningful, data-driven roadmap.

A Strategic Plan in a Nutshell

  1. Translates the messy and complex into actionable steps

  2. Sets expectations and measurement tools

  3. Builds unity and momentum

  4. Reduces inefficiencies and waste

 

If You Only Read One Thing

Too often, nonprofit leaders only use strategic planning to create a master plan. CEOs don’t recognize that they can tap into specific issue strategies, what I call “strategic minis,” when they need to make traction in critical matters—even when it’s not time for a “regular” strategic plan.

What kinds of critical issues benefit from a strategic mini?

  1. Surprise grant and donation misses

  2. Board governance challenges

  3. Staff conflicts, and

  4. CEO questions, such as, “Should I stay or go?”

 

What Strategic Mini’s Look Like

Let’s delve into strategic mini-examples to illustrate how they move nonprofit CEOs from stuck to effective.

Board Governance

Many execs reach out for a board session to focus their members on board governance. They’re frustrated by the board’s “not getting it” and “helping” with the wrong stuff. A session, they believe, will teach what the board needs to know. Unfortunately, a board session is like a lottery ticket. Creating a governance culture requires more.

If your board’s not governing, a strategic mini will give you the framework to create a culture shift to get you “there.” There being—a plan for how the CEO will guide the chair and board toward governance until the board internalizes governance.

Imagine being clear on what’s blocking your board and getting clear on how you will help them become better board members. A strategic mini is perfect here because so many strategic plans don’t seriously consider governance.

“Before our work, board members were emailing, calling, and texting me—even on the weekends. After our work, that stopped. The board now knows their job. They understand it includes fiduciary responsibilities. It’s not only about showing up at meetings or micromanaging the staff.”- Sarah Pallone, Executive Director, Highlands County Habitat for Humanity

CEO Question

Another place to consider a strategic mini? CEO career questions.

JJ considered resigning from a nonprofit she loved due to an unresolved staff and board conflict. Despite her efforts and the organization’s success, these issues persisted.

Her strategic mini revealed the root causes (three interlocking issues) and created a plan with three backup options. Instead of leaving, JJ stayed to solve the challenge with her new game plan.

If you ask yourself if you should stay or leave, you’re not alone. We can estimate that up to one in five or six nonprofit leaders is asking this question. Nonprofit employee turnover “poses a significant challenge, with statistics indicating an average turnover rate of 19%, compared to the 12% average across all sectors.”

Often, CEOs find that while they like their positions, one or two issues drain their energy. This leads to another strategic mini-example.

Staff Conflicts

Andrew inherited a challenging senior management duo. The CFO and COO, while dedicated, were at odds, demanding he pick sides.

The strategic mini and subsequent interventions guide the duo to find common ground, bury the hatchet, and bring Andrew solutions they both recommended.

The Bottom Line

You.

If you’re facing similar challenges in governance or leadership, I’m here to help. For issues outside my expertise, I have referrals ready.

Warning

Why is external expertise vital when developing strategies?

  1. Objectivity

  2. Confidential gathering and analysis of data

  3. Expert Knowledge: Sector insight

  4. Solutions that fix problems

 

External experts offer new options, ease the CEO’s burden, and provide accountability to translate the messy and complex into actionable steps.

 

Author: Karen Eber Davis 

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together

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