Get Your Nonprofit Strategy Focused
There is a saying called Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands to consume the available resources.” This is to say, that your entire team will always be busy, and your total budget will be spent. This is especially true of nonprofit strategy.
So the question is, how do you ever do something new? Starting anything means stopping something else, which is often more complicated than it sounds.
In our nonprofit strategy work, leaders often lament the difficulty of freeing up resources or concentrating on fewer but more important things. The status quo has a healthy immune system. The “corporate antibodies” swiftly move in to attack attempts at making way for the new.
Do You Need To Start Stopping?
If you don’t recognize this dynamic in your organization, ask yourself if the following are true:
If you answered yes to any of the above, it might be time for you to start stopping.
Focus on the Bottom Lines
Jazz great John Coltrane was known for his long-winded saxophone solos. When Miles Davis complained, Coltrane said: “I just don’t know how to stop!” Miles replied, “Try taking the horn out of your mouth!”
It’s a funny quote but an insightful one. It reframes the problem as something (in Coltrane’s case, pretty quickly) solvable. Organizations that succeed with nonprofit strategies do the same. They refocus from activities to outcomes.
In other words, asking not “Why are we doing X, Y, or Z?” but “How do X, Y, and Z create the outcomes we want?” You don’t measure strategic outcomes by work done but by a change in the business or world that moves the strategy forward
Agree On Outcomes First
In the words of Meghan Trainor: “Thank you in advance; I don’t want to dance.” Successful organizations focus their strategic planning on the outcomes they want and how they will measure them instead of what they want. As a result, they have a clearer view of things that are not delivering for them and an easier time saying no to them.
One large organization we worked with reduced its dashboard goals from more than thirty to six. By linking the budget process to the six top-level goals, resources with little impact or value did not get funded. This happened as a matter of principles established in advance, not on a case-by-case basis.
It is not easy. The example above profited from solid leadership, board partnership, and sustained planning discipline. The fruits of this effort are a strong focus on things that matter, the ability to shift resources among them as things change, and a level of organizational clarity that keeps everyone aligned when change happens.