Dani Robbins

Nonprofit Strategy in Six Words (none of which are curses)

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Strategic Plans, Uncategorized on August 11, 2022 at 12:36 pm

When I was in elementary school we were taught how to write a newspaper article by using the 5 Ws: where, what, why, who and when. Nonprofit strategy isn’t much different, though we do add a how.  In both cases you’re painting a picture and telling a story. Our story is about how we change the world. 

Where are we going? How are we going to conduct ourselves along the way? Who do we serve? What are we doing? Why?

If you subscribe to the Simon Sinek theory of why –  and I do – you know that no one cares about the what or the how; they care about the why.  In his amazing and highly recommended Ted Talk, How great leaders inspire action, he says “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” Which begs the question:  What is it that you believe?

Nonprofit strategy is born from what you believe.

That’s why I always start with values.  Values are the how.  How do you conduct yourself?  How do you talk to and about your clients? What do you value as an organization? How does that impact the culture and the work?

Your mission statement is the why. It’s why your organization exists.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s mission is to “enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

Local Matters’ mission – I was honored to facilitate the discussion when it was drafted – is “to create healthy communities through food education, access and advocacy.”

Speaking of Local Matters, they illustrated for me the need for organizations to have both a utopian vision and a 3 year vision.  As they explained it to me, and as I now explain it to others “The utopian vision is the reason you get up every morning.”  It’s the long term where.

The 3 year vision is the more immediate where. It answers where you are going, now. It set the path for your future.

Who? It seems like such an easy question. Who do we serve? As I learned when facilitating Columbus’ theory of change for Opportunity Youth, setting the who is not easy at all. In case you are not aware, Opportunity Youth are 16-24 year olds who are not in school and are not working.  And just to be clear, we’re not talking about your friend’s kid who’s backpacking across Europe. We’re talking about the young people who got thrown out, aged out, were abused or left out. It’s an enormous number of young people and you’d think that deciding who belongs in that group would be easy, but it’s not. 

The other who is who is doing the work? All good strategies have metrics. Metrics are managed by the more immediate who, when and what. When will it be done? How will you know?

Any strategy that doesn’t have metrics is a wish list. Don’t create those and don’t accept them. I also recommend you try to keep plans relatively short. I tend to believe that the longer a plan is, the less likely it is to get completed. 

Finally, strategy setting is a role of the Board. It should not be done by the Executive leader alone in their office.  It should be done by the entire Board or a subset of the Board that is informing and getting buy in from the full Board along the way. As I tell my students and my clients, any plan you write alone in your office you will execute alone in your office.

That’s it! Five Ws, one H. No cursing. Throw in an environmental scan, a SWOT analysis and an issue exercise and you’ve got yourself a strategy to help you align the work of your organization.

What’s your experience with strategy setting? What would you add, or delete? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: