Upgrade Your Nonprofit’s Strategic Efforts

Responsibility for the lack of NFP strategic planning must reside with the chief executive, board members.  Also lack of straeteic planning can occur if unresolved operational challenges are not referred to the board in a timely manner.

When a NFP board begins strategic planning, it must:

  • fully understand the difference between strategic and tactical planning.*
  • have a fully engaged chief executive involved with the board in the leadership of the strategic planning process. After all, the chief executive will be responsible for executing the plan!
  • have a proportion of board directors with some specific types of strategic oriented experiences.

For example, one faith based organization recreational facility I know built a modern new building. However, the leadership was unaware of the quietly growing demand for preschool education in the area. As soon as the new building was opened, several parts of the structure had to be remodeled to accommodate a growing preschool population.

While I admit that planning for coming societal and behavioral, changes is difficult, like the one in the example, I suggest that any nonprofit board needs to take “inventory” of the following backgrounds of the current chief executive and board members.

How strategically capable is the organization’s chief executive? Does he or she stay at the leading edge of the field? Has the board recruited the chief executive for a strategic acumen or for just keeping the organization on a stable course?

How successful has the NFP organization been in recruiting some of the following types of directors?

  1. Those with enough time to become thoroughly acquainted with field related to the mission, visions of the organization’s operations. After all, many NFP directors serve on boards whose fields of focus are quite different from those in which they have working experience. Few, for example, probably have backgrounds in nonprofit human services.
  2. Those who can distinguish between a strategic plan and a tactical plan?
  3. Those capable of critical thinking, questioning past assumptions as they relate to the future assumptions.
  4. Those who have had successful strategic planning experiences at a high (not tactical) levels on other FP or NFP boards. Many middle level business mangers will lack strategic experiences.
  5. Those who have innate visionary abilities to assess future opportunities or roadblocks. Probably only a small proportion o any NFP board.
  6. Those who have failed with past unsuccessful strategic plans but learned from their mistakes.
  7. Those who can realistically project the financial challenges a strategic plan will develop.

Addressing these recruitment issues in a forthright manner should enable nonprofit organizations to determine how difficult it might be to upgrade their strategic efforts. This move also might improve nonprofits’ records for strategic planning.**

* “In contrast to tactical planning (which focuses at achieving narrowly defined interim objectives with predetermined means), strategic planning looks at the wider picture and is flexible in choice of its means.”

** In the 2012 Nonprofit Governance Index, Data Report 1, published by BoardSource, 40% of nonprofit chief executives surveyed gave their boards grades of C, D or F for strategy

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