Is Your Nonprofit’s Strategy Only Stating Ambitions Rather Than Solving Problems?

 

Is Your Nonprofit’s Strategy Only Stating Ambitions Rather Than Solving Problems?

By: Eugene  Fram                Free Digital Image

McKinsey & Company in a recent article interviewing author and academic Richard Remelt discusses this strategy question for business organizations.*  Following is my estimation how the article’s information might be applied to the nuances encountered in nonprofit strategy development. 

Strategy Results

In evaluating strategies, nonprofit boards often only use the easier to measure results, for examples, membership size and financial ratios.

But progress for nonprofits often also must be measured in qualitative formats.  “Not being able to afford the time and money to develop excellent qualitative metrics (e.g., enhanced life quality, community commitment), to glean whatever they can from using imperfect metrics.” **

Richard Remelt suggests there is a big difference between strategies developed for actions versus ambitions.  My experiences with nonprofit strategy development suggest that many nonprofits focus on ambition rather than the problems to be solved by the next three-year plan.  He calls a strategy based on ambition “bad strategy.”   “Bad strategy is almost a literary form that uses PowerPoint slides to say, ‘Here is how we will look as a company in three years.’  That is interesting,  but it’s not a strategy.”

For nonprofits, his analysis also relates to the difference between program outcomes and program impacts. For example, A human services strategy can have good program outcomes but fail to have client impacts because basic causes aren’t/can’t be addressed. 

Board Member Motivation

The median nonprofit board member serves a term ranging from four to six years. In contrast, the average tenure for a public board member is 9.7 years.

Assuming this frequent turnover, the nonprofit director/trustee will only be involved with one strategic planning cycle. Even with a board member highly dedicated to the mission’s objectives, the brief tenure structure can dampen motivations to rigorously participate in strategic planning.  

I have seen this evolve frequently, especially when the board approves the performance of a “mind-the-store executive director,” as opposed to an “entrepreneurial” type.  Operationally, the former executive director can be described as one seeking stability over innovation.  She/h can produce modest income increases with balanced budgets, often supported by substantial legacy financial endowments.

Involving Staff in Strategic Planning and Other Insights 

  • Rumelt suggests limiting the number of persons involved in strategic board planning.  For larger nonprofits, this might only include senior and/or division management.  For smaller and midsized nonprofits, this might involve management and some professional staff. Organizationally, in these nonprofits, the two groups may be only one or two levels apart.
  • Ask simple questions like: “If our organization were to disappear, who would miss us?”  “If we were to establish a new agency, who among the staff, would we take with us?”
  • “Boards may not need strategy committees, but they just need a sense of best practice, just as ..(accountants).. have well-established best practice in accounting:”  I agree that nonprofit boards do not need a standing strategy committee.  The development and maintenance of the strategic plan is the joint responsibility of the CEO and Board Chair. Together they can use a simple maintenance device by relating most 
     problem-solving efforts, generated in nonprofit board meetings to the 
     strategic plan. 

* https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/why-bad-strategy-is-a-social-contagion

 

** https://nonprofitquarterly.org/using-imperfect-metrics-well-tracking-progress-and-driving-change/

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