Saturday, October 06, 2007

Key Strategies for Your Nonprofit

While strategic plans will address critical issues and challenges that are unique to individual nonprofits, it is also true that there are some key strategies that need to be incorporated into the strategic plans of all nonprofits in some way, regardless of mission focus. Here's my starter list:

Boomers. Your strategic plan needs a targeted strategy to engage baby boomers as volunteers, board leaders, donors, and activists. One of the best resources available for thinking this through is Generations: The Challenge of a Lifetime for Your Nonprofit by Peter C. Brinckerhoff which outlines in very specific ways what you can expect and how to plan for it. This publication also includes an assessment tool.

Strategic Restructuring. Your strategic planning process also needs to include exploration of partnerships, alliances and other forms of strategic restructuring. It's always been true -- and in the future even more so -- that the ability to forge partnerships and alliances that advance your nonprofit’s strategic priorities is a critical competency. Here are some excellent resources: LaPiana & Associates Strategic Restructuring Website. Also read Forging Nonprofit Alliances: A Comprehensive Guide to Enhancing Your Mission Through Joint Ventures & Partnerships, Management Service Organizations, Parent Corporations, and Mergers by Jane Arsenault. Also see which offers resources and readings on alliance strategy and management. The site is maintained by Ben Gomes-Casseres, author of The Alliance Revolution and co-author of Mastering Alliance Strategy, a professor at Brandeis University.

Leadership Succession. Your strategic planning also needs to address the challenge of board and staff leadership succession and related executive transition issues. Three of the best resources on this subject are: TransitionGuides, Compasspoint Nonprofit Services Executive Transition resources, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Executive Transition Monographs Series.

Regional Thinking. Another critical theme is regional thinking and decision-making. Increasingly local leaders are becoming convinced that solutions to local problems require regional strategies. Nonprofits also need to think about their missions, programs and services in regional terms. Obviously this will be more important for some organizations than for others. A good place to start is the Alliance for Regional Stewardship.

The Web. You also need to be thinking about technology and specifically Web 2.0. Don't know what Web 2.0 is? You'd better. What are the implications of these new web-based communications and networking tools? Nonprofits that figure this one out are way ahead. Start with Everything You Need to Know About Web 2.0 by Techsoup. And here is an excellent book Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age by Allison Fine.

Collaborative Strategic Planning. Finally look for opportunities to engage in collaborative strategic planning with current and prospective partners. Nonprofits are showing new interest in collaborative strategic planning efforts in which the focus is on a shared customer/constituent base or pressing community issue rather than development of a strategic plan for their organization alone. Examples include several youth and family serving organizations developing a collaborative strategic plan to offer new services to children with special needs in a region or neighborhood development groups focusing on affordable housing in city neighborhoods. This theme was addressed in a February 14, 2006 post on this blog.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Relationship of Strategic Planning to Other Forms of Planning

Often there can be some confusion and disagreement about the definition of strategic planning and its relationship to other forms of planning in nonprofit organizations. I have tended to view the strategic plan as a 3-5 year “strategic blueprint” that serves as the foundation for these other forms of planning. I recently conducted a webinar entitled "The Relationship of Strategic Planning to Program Planning and Business Planning”.

In preparing for the session, I came across an excellent article “Business Planning for Nonprofits: Why, When — and How It Compares to Strategic Planning” by Brigette Rouson. The article describes three approaches to defining the relationship of strategic planning to other forms of planning. According to Rouson, the three approaches include selection (opting for one over the other), synthesis (bringing elements of both approaches together) and sequencing (ordering one before the other). If you want to explore this relationship further, check out this article and others included in the resource bibliography I developed for this recent webinar:

Collection of Business Planning Resources for Nonprofits: The Bridgespan Group has assembled an excellent set of resources on business planning for nonprofits. In “Business Planning for Nonprofits,” Bridgespan draws on client experience to illustrate the key components of the business-planning process.

Business Planning For Nonprofits What It Is and Why It Matters

For an impressive example of business planning in the nonprofit sector see the Harlem Children’s Zone business plan.

Business Planning Toolkit by Seedco.

Business Planning for Nonprofits: Why, When — and How It Compares to Strategic Planning by Brigette Rouson.

Thinking about a Revenue Generating Venture as a Sustainability Strategy for your Nonprofit Organization by Mike Burns

Business Planning by Carter McNamara, Authenticity Consulting

Basic Guide to Nonprofit Program Design and Marketing by Carter McNamara.

Strategic Planning for Your Organization and Its Fund Development by Lori Bertman

Sunday, July 29, 2007

One More Time - What’s Your Volunteer Strategy?

In my June 25, 2007 post, I asked the question “What’s Your Boomer Strategy?” and suggested that most nonprofits don’t have concrete strategies in place to tap into Baby Boomer charitable giving, volunteering and professional workplace skills and knowledge. I went on to highlight a number of excellent resources that are now available to help nonprofits craft such strategies.

More good news! For nonprofits that want to get serious about mobilizing volunteer resources in the service of their missions, the Corporation for National and Community Service recently released, Volunteering in America: 2007 City Trends and Rankings. According to the Corporation,

This publication ranks and includes profiles for 50 of the largest cities including the volunteer rate; the types of organizations through which residents serve; their main volunteering activities, the average hours per year and volunteer rates for age and gender demographic groups, and key trends and highlights. The report also analyzes social and demographic trends affect city volunteer rates and finds that there are four key drivers of volunteering: community attachment; commuting times, high school graduation levels and poverty; and the prevalence of nonprofits and their capacity to retain volunteers from year to year.

This data can help your nonprofit develop a volunteer growth strategy as part of your overall strategic plan. For links to an executive summary, the full report, and related resources, go to:

Even more good news: To support your volunteer strategy development, the Points of Light Foundation has designed an Economic Impact of Volunteers Calculator that can assign a realistic economic value for volunteer time. Using the calculator, you can determine the value of the time current and prospective volunteers provide doing a wide variety of volunteer jobs. The Calculator estimates the appropriate wage rate for volunteer time based on what the person does and the value of specific tasks according to market conditions as reported by the US Department of Labor. To check out the calculator, go to:

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Power of Vision

In previous posts, I’ve talked a lot about vision. “If we could create the organization of our dreams and have the impact we have always wanted to have in the lives of the people we serve, what would that success look like in five years?”

I regard vision as the centerpiece of the strategic planning process -- and the resulting strategic plan. Of course, we need detailed, financially viable action plans to get us to our desired future. But without a compelling, shared vision, really, what’s the point?

I want to share a favorite quote with you. Max DePree ends his book Leadership Jazz with a captivating story about leaders whose actions were inspired by vision. This story demonstrates to us the vital link between strategic planning, vision and the stewardship responsibilities of leadership. It's a lesson for all of us: our strategic plans will touch the lives of individuals and communities far into the future.

In the late fourteenth century, the members of New College at Oxford, moved into their quadrangle, the first structure of its kind, intended to provide for the residents all that they needed. On the north side of the quadrangle sit the chapel and the great hall, beautiful buildings and, as you might imagine, the focus of the life of the college.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, almost five hundred years later, the college hired architect Sir Gilbert Scott to restore the roof of the hall. The roof and the great oak beams that supported it had badly rotted. And so representatives from the college with Sir Gilbert visited Great Hall Woods, in Berkshire, where they expected to find trees for replacement beams. Sure enough, the replacements were standing there, waiting to be hewn out of the living oak trees planted a century before for just that purpose.

An anonymous leader's promise had been fulfilled. The voice and touch of a distant leader had been joined.

Monday, June 25, 2007

What’s Your Boomer Strategy?

What’s your boomer strategy? Don't have one? You're not alone. Here are some resources that can help.

An important part of the information gathering and analysis that lays the groundwork for successful strategic planning is the external assessment, sometimes called the environmental scan. The purpose of the external assessment is to identify and assess changes and trends in the environment in which a nonprofit operates that are likely to have significant future impact on the nonprofit itself as well as the people and communities being served. Typically, we look at political, economic, technological, social, lifestyle, demographic, competitive, regulatory and broad philanthropic trends. We then determine which changes are opportunities for our organization (for example, opportunities to grow) and which could be threats to us in some way (for example, trends that can have a negative impact on our revenue generating activities). Finally we identify implications for selected changes and trends -- ways our nonprofit might respond to the opportunities and threats we identify.

Some of the changes and trends will be of special interest to a particular nonprofit given its mission. For example, a nonprofit organization that promotes home ownership in city neighborhoods will focus on relevant federal and state policies, interest rates and other economic changes that affect family income levels.

At the same time, there are broad external changes and trends that will have impact on nonprofits regardless of their mission focus. Sometimes the anticipated impact is so great that every nonprofit doing strategic planning needs to craft a strategic response to that trend. For example, the effect of Sarbanes-Oxley and other developments that intensify the call for public accountability of nonprofits are prompting many organizations to change internal governance practices and, in general, to focus more on efforts to enhance public awareness and understanding of their work.

Today there are several other broad trends of this type that come to mind. One of the most important is the impact of baby boomers as they now begin to retire. A lot is being written about what boomers will be doing with their volunteer time and their charitable dollars. Also, for a number of reasons, many boomers will put off retirement to continue working in their current jobs or in new part-time positions. Several studies suggest that many boomers, when they think of employment "after retirement", express a preference for work in the nonprofit sector.

All of this represents great news for nonprofit organizations. The problem is that many nonprofits are not thinking about how to capitalize on this phenomenon. This trend and its implications are so important that a strategic plan that doesn’t include concrete strategies to tap into Boomer charitable giving, volunteering and professional workplace skills and knowledge is deficient in a serious way.

The great news: lots of excellent resources available with guidance to nonprofit leaders trying to better understand this trend, identify implications and develop a strategic response. Here are a few:

• One of the most recent books on the subject is Generations: The Challenge of a Lifetime for Your Nonprofit by Peter C. Brinckerhoff which outlines in very specific ways what you can expect and how to plan for it. This publication also includes an assessment tool.

• The Boomer’s Guide to Good Work by Ellen Freudenheim, published by The MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures. Go to:
• Craver, Mathews, Smith & Company published a landmark study on Baby Boomer trends in fundraising and advocacy. Go to:

• A recent Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund survey reports that boomers are on track to give 20% more than the average donor. Go to:

• The best effort to date to bring resources together in one place is “Baby Boomer Volunteer Resources” compiled by the Alliance for Nonprofit Management. Go to:

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Anchoring the Organization in a Set of Governing Ideas

In "The Fifth Discipline" Peter Senge speaks of the importance of anchoring an organization in a set of governing ideas. According to Senge, MISSION is the "Why?" - the organization's answer to the question, "Why do we exist?" VISION is the "What?" - the picture of the future we seek to create. And CORE VALUES is the "How?" - the organization's answer to the question, "How do we want to act consistent with our mission on the path toward our vision?" An organization's values describe how the organization wants life to be on a day-to-day basis, while pursuing the vision.

Clarity about these governing ideas is the foundation for effective strategic planning, and organizational effectiveness in general. Our mission, vision and core values need to be in alignment. At the same time, while the words "mission" and "vision" are often used interchangeably, they are two distinct things. The mission refers to the fundamental purpose of the organization. The vision statement describes the hoped for destination, and therefore reflects the future direction of the organization. We can be completely clear about our purpose, and still be in complete disagreement about our vision for the future.

I regard the strategic vision as the centerpiece of a good strategic plan and organizational effectiveness in general. Without agreement about the "future we seek to create", we run the risk of devising a plan that may look good on paper -- bold and exciting strategic priorities, based on sound financial analysis, with a solid framework for evaluating results -- but a plan that takes us and the community that we are presuming to serve in the wrong direction.

Senge -- and I agree completely -- speaks passionately about the importance of a shared vision. A vision that people are committed to-- they'll do whatever it takes to make the vision a reality. He contrasts this with a vision about which people are apathetic (Neither for nor against vision. No interest. No energy. “Is it five o'clock yet?”)

And if we are to have a shared vision that inspires this kind of commitment, we need to make sure that the process we use to create the vision is one that fully engages board, staff and community stakeholders. The process needs to allow them to connect their personal dreams and their highest aspirations to the work of creating a shared vision for the organization. Visions that are handed down from on high without this kind of meaningful engagement don't inspire people to put forth their best efforts.

In the issues-based approach to strategic planning which I favor, the vision is rooted in the critical strategic issues which board and staff leadership identify in the planning process. In many ways, the vision represents the "big answer" to the "big questions" (issues) that surface in the early stages of our strategic planning.

There are lots of great web-based resources for developing this kind of shared vision. For a look at one approach that I have found useful, go to: And for a sampling of vision statements from a wide range of nonprofits, go to:

For some of the most inspired thinking about vision, go to the source: “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge. "Vision" is one of the five disciplines of the learning organization as Senge conceives it. Read Chapter 10 "Shared Vision". In fact, while you're at it, read the book! It’s recently revised with lots of new material and will continue to be an influential work. And visit for other Fifth Discipline resources.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Strategic Planning Surveys

Increasingly, leaders who see the value of strategic planning are looking for ways to engage in the process without taking any more time than is necessary. The demands on people's time -- especially board leaders -- means that strategic planners must look for ways of accelerating the planning process.

In my experience, in order to do credible strategic planning and at the same time meet the demand for a less time consuming process, information gathering and analysis must be completed before leaders engage in formal strategic planning sessions. When this is done, the planning group can hit the ground running.

I want to offer a glimpse at a few information gathering surveys for strategic planning I’ve been using for the last several years. They’ve all undergone a number of revisions and work well with a broad range of nonprofits. There is a survey tool for board and staff of organizations and a second survey tool I use for gathering information and insights from “key informants”. Key informants are individuals presumed to have special expertise, knowledge and insights that could be helpful in the strategic planning process. Informants may have an understanding of the changes going on in the community, trends specific to the field of work in the nonprofit is engaged in, the economy, the political environment, the impact of new regulations/legislation, charitable giving, etc.

To view the board and staff survey sample, go to: To view the key informant survey sample, go to:

Friday, January 26, 2007

Disruptive Innovation for Social Change

Every once in awhile, an article appears that goes on to have significant impact in the nonprofit sector. In 1989, Peter Drucker wrote What Businesses Can Learn from Nonprofits, an important counterbalance to the prevailing belief that all of the answers to organizational effectiveness could be found in the for-profit sector alone. In 1996, Chait, Holland and Taylor wrote The New Work of the Nonprofit Board. This article led to a number of important efforts to improve board performance and these efforts continue. Now in December 2006, a new article in the Harvard Business Review promises to do the same. In the article, Disruptive Innovation for Social Change, Clayton M. Christensen, Heiner Baumann, Rudy Ruggles, and Thomas M. Sadler offer a challenge to the nonprofit sector:
"In the social sector, too much attention is devoted to providing more of the same to narrow populations that are already served. It's time for a fundamentally different approach. . . . it's not a lack of solutions, but rather misdirected investment. Too much of the money available to address social needs is used to maintain the status quo, because it is given to organizations that are wedded to their current solutions, delivery models, and recipients. ... While they may do a good and important job serving those people, and while there services may steadily improve, these organizations are unlikely ever to reach a far broader populations that are in need -- and that would be satisfied by simpler offerings, if only they were available.”

The authors advocate searching for “disruptive" or "catalytic” innovations that have the potential for dramatic breakthroughs in efforts to address pressing community needs and social issues. The article offers examples of disruptive innovation, qualities of catalytic innovators and advice to funders and investors who want to see their dollars lead to real change.

The relevance for strategic planning? The challenges posed by the authors of this article are ones that need to be incorporated into our strategic thinking and planning efforts. Whether we refer to it as "theory of change" or "logic model", we need to ask ourselves if we operate from an understanding of how change happens, if our programs and services reflect this understanding, and what is the evidence that our program/service approach is actually working. And as the authors of the article Making Sense: Reviewing Program Design with Theory of Change suggest, this analysis needs to take place before strategic planning -- not after. A strategic planning effort that avoids this analysis can lead -- as many strategic planning efforts do -- to the decision to continue with more of the same --ineffective programs with mediocre results.

More commentary on this important article can be found at ManyWorlds, New Profit, Community Health Edge, the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and the Private Sector Development Blog.

Be sure to read “Disruptive Innovation for Social Change” and share it with board leaders, staff, colleagues, and friends.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Strategic Planning -- An Engaging Process

The latest program in Boardstar’s podcast series features an interview with me on the role of the board in strategic planning. The interview, led by Pat Wyzbinski of the Nonprofit Management Fund covers the following topics: use of an outside facilitator, how long does a strategic planning process take?, benefits of board and staff involvement in information gathering activities for strategic planning, growing interest in accelerated strategic planning, key components of an effective strategic planning process, composition of the strategic planning committee, including the value of involving "outsiders" in the planning process, measuring progress in implementing a strategic plan. You can listen to this podcast and download it to your computer, iPod or MP3 player at The Board star program was recently featured as a noteworthy website in our regular Picks of the Week. Go to: