Thursday, September 18, 2008

Strategic Thinking and Planning: A Resource Bibliography

Here is a newly revised resource bibliography on strategic thinking and planning:

• Basic Overview of Various Strategic Planning Models by Carter McNamara,
• Blueprint for Success, A Guide to Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Board Members by BoardSource (video/DVD),
• Business Planning Resources for Nonprofits by The Bridgespan Group,
• Designing Your Future by ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership,
• Effective Strategic Planning: Getting Your Organization Focused and Directed by Michael Burns and Paul Yelder,
•Field Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning and Facilitation by Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD,
• Nonprofit Organizational Assessment Tool: Strategic Planning by Professor Andrew B. Lewis, Center for Community Economic Development, University of Wisconsin Extension,
• Presenting: Strategic Planning: Choosing the Right Method for Your Nonprofit Organization by Michela M. Perrone Ph.D. and Janis Johnston and BoardSource,
• Stanford Social Innovation Review published by the Center for Social Innovation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business,
• Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement by John M. Bryson,
• Strategic Planning Resource Collection by Professor Andrew B. Lewis, Center for Community Economic Development, University of Wisconsin Extension,
• Strategic Planning Workbook for Nonprofit Organizations by Brian W. Barry and the Fieldstone Alliance,
• Strategic Planning: A Practical Handbook for Nonprofit Organizations by Michael Allison and Jude Kaye,
• Strategic Planning: Frequently Asked Questions by The Alliance for Nonprofit Management,
• The Drucker Foundation Self-Assessment Tool Process Guide by the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management and Gary J. Stern,
• The MacMillan Matrix for Competitive Analysis of Programs,
• The Nonprofit Quarterly published by Nonprofit Information Networking Association,
• The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution by David La Piana.
• Toolkit for Developing a Social Purpose Business Plan, by Structured Employment Economic Development Corporation (Seedco),
• What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits published by the Global Business Network,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Strategic Planning Gets Better

These continue to be exciting and challenging times for nonprofit organizations. There is increased understanding among nonprofit leaders about the importance of strategic thinking and planning. The practice of planning itself continues to evolve – and improve. Here are some of the important developments:

Accelerated Strategic Planning: Most nonprofits don’t need to be sold on the value of strategic planning and thinking. At the same time, leaders have no patience for a process that goes on too long. The key is designing a process that gives adequate attention to information gathering and analysis and identification of critical strategic issues, involvement of key stakeholders, and the formulation of strategies and action plans that effectively address identified issues – and at the same time, making the most effective use of the valuable time of the leadership. Related to the theme of accelerated planning, is the growing interest in planning tools and approaches that facilitate just-in-time strategy development on an ongoing basis – a rapid response to new developments and emerging market opportunities that can’t wait for a formal strategic planning process. See the publication that everyone is raving about (and rightly so) The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution by David La Piana.

Collaborative Approaches to Strategic Planning: 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 of this approach 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 of the needs board effective strategic planning focusing on affordable housing in city neighborhoods. Such a collaborative approach to strategic planning that involves multiple perspectives can lay the groundwork for new cross sector partnerships that will increase the impact of a nonprofit in the future. For many nonprofits – even those who see the importance of planning collaboratively – this will require a commitment to build capacity to engage in such a planning approach. Here’s a recent news account that describes one such collaborative approach to strategic planning involving the Healthy Communities Coalition and Lyon County Human Services near Reno Nevada.

Reviewing Program Design With Theory Of Change: Strategic planning can also be an opportunity to examine the basic approach being used by an organization to achieve mission impact. The terms "business model" and "theory of change" are terms increasingly in use. We can stimulate fresh strategic thinking by posing questions like: “What are our basic beliefs, assumptions, or paradigms about how things work in our part of the world – our service area, our region, our profession or field of endeavor “What are the root causes of the problem or issue our organization seeks to address?” “Does the organization base its work on a coherent theory of change? “What is that theory of change?” “Is it working?”. For more information about theory of change, go to: The site introduces a process for developing a theory of change, gives examples of this process, and tackles several interesting advanced topics on putting the process into practice. Be sure to take a look at Theory Of Change As A Tool For Strategic Planning and Making Sense: Reviewing Program Design with Theory of Change.

Strategic Planning as an Opportunity for Board Leadership Development: The board of directors, as one of the clearest expressions of its governance responsibility, needs to play a leadership role in strategic planning. Sometimes, executive directors, concerned that the planning process can invite micromanaging on the part of the board, will seek to limit involvement of the board in strategic planning. The concern is understandable but if the board is already operating from a clear understanding of its roles and responsiblities, this is less likely to be a problem. Terrie Temkin, a consultant to nonprofit organizations, has written a series of excellent articles highlighting the role of the board as strategic thinkers. Some of them are listed here: Recruiting Strategic Thinkers, Orienting Board Members to their Responsibilities as Strategic Thinkers and Structuring Board Meetings to Maximize Strategic Thinking Boards.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Strategic Planning and Succession Planning

Merianne Liteman, in her article “The Board’s Role in Succession Planning” makes some important connections between strategic planning and effective executive transition. While her primary audience is arts organizations, her advice is helpful for any nonprofit. She writes:
"A plan for transition to new leadership can’t emerge fully grown … . For leadership transitions to succeed, they must be consistent with and, indeed, grow out of the organization’s core strategy—its vision, mission, and values—as well as a clear understanding of its current status. This strategy is best expressed through a formal plan, which takes into account where the organization has been, where it is now, and where it wants to go. With a thoughtful and up-to-date strategic plan in place, an organization has a solid platform from which to launch a successful transition effort. Without such a plan, any succession effort it undertakes will rest on quicksand."
She goes on to say:
"A current strategic plan is essential for a smooth transition. The process of creating a strategic plan—or of reexamining and updating an existing one—offers an arts organization the chance to take a critical look at itself, reconsider its vision, assess its strengths and potential challenges, explore opportunities for growth, rethink its policies in line with current realities, and address issues that are critical for its future."
Sometimes nonprofit boards will leave this kind of strategic decision-making up to the new executive director. And this why some executive transitions end up as disasters. Liteman says that it’s a real mistake for organizations to assume that the new director is the one who should come up with the answers:
"Addressing these questions up front will yield dividends when the board makes critical decisions about the skills and competencies a potential successor should possess. Sometimes boards decide to leave such questions for the new director to address once he or she arrives. Bad idea; that’s like asking the pilot to decide on a destination after all the passengers are seated."
The succession plan may or may not be part of the nonprofit’s formal strategic plan. If not, it still needs to align with the strategic plan as Merianne Liteman points out. To download a copy of the article, go to:

Here are some links to resources on succession planning and executive transition. You can use these to educate board and staff leadership on this critical challenge as part of the effort to gear up for strategic planning or succession planning – or both.
• The Texas Commission on the Arts has compiled a number of leadership transition resources at
• TransitionGuides, a consulting and educational services company specializing in executive transition at
• Leading Transitions, a firm specializing in providing technical assistance in the areas of executive transition management and succession planning at
• Compass Point Nonprofit Services provides access to research and articles on executive transitions, as well as templates for emergency succession plans and interim executive director job descriptions at