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The strategic plan dilemma: Building for the future while you’re drowning

a woman and a man in an office talk to each other

Three years ago, I launched my consulting practice with the sole objective of providing the nonprofit sector targeted solutions for creating capacity and clarity for executive director roles. Unfortunately, one of the most common barriers to capacity oftentimes is… seeking clarity.

Nonprofit organizations feel the constant pressure of demonstrating that they are clear about the path forward. This often includes strategic plans filled with wonderful marketing “bells and whistles” and ambitious growth goals undoubtedly considered feasible by the board, that has historically not helped raise significant funds and resources. In addition, at any given time, a nonprofit executive director is wearing at least five department head “hats”, including lead fundraiser.

What is often not shared within these plans is that for many organizations that are on the verge of losing their biggest contributors, their staff members are burnt out or close to it, and executive directors are frustrated by the fact that no one is asking if they can carry the increased number of responsibilities that come with a growing organization.

These are just a few of the factors to consider when determining the right time to start the strategic planning process. Nonprofit leaders must avoid drowning in the sea of endless activities. I consider myself a recovering executive director, but if I were still in the role, here are the recommended activities I would want to complete with my board and key leadership staff before moving forward:

  • Perform a deep assessment of the overall health of your organization: Dive into the performance of the organization and have honest conversations with leadership about staffing capacity, program impact, the delivery of programs, and fundraising.
  • Consider building on your current plan before moving forward with a new plan: It is always helpful to consider your options. For example, is it possible to continue building on the current plan or direction currently pursued? Oftentimes, the needs of the people you serve and the social landscape will determine how your organization should proceed, so pay attention to what the community is trying to tell you!
  • Know what you want to accomplish: Remember that making a course correction does not necessarily require a new strategic plan. It may make more sense to develop an operations, board development, or fundraising plan as the appropriate new “roadmap” for the organization.

Developing a new strategic plan should not be funder-driven, but mission and impact-driven. Always keep the mission and constituents you serve top of mind when trying to assess the path forward. If you feel that moving forward with developing a strategic plan is the right approach after considering these factors, then simply make sure that you bring the right group together to lead the process and come ready to invest time, knowledge, and expertise.

Join me on Thursday, June 17 for Candid’s webinar, “Map Out Your Nonprofit’s Strategic Plan Options,” to determine whether a strategic plan is the best move for your organization right now, and to discover the alternatives to a traditional strategic plan. Register for the webinar.

This blog was originally published on the KAL Fund blog.


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