Nonprofit Strategic Planning

August 27, 2014

Is your organization like President Obama?

Warning! This is a pretty weird blog. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. So here goes.

First,  read Maureen Dowd’s op-ed piece “Alone Again, Naturally.” (August 19, 2014, New York Times) Her column forms the basis for this blog.

I’ve read the column several times now. Each time, I wonder if your organization or mine or the others behave like Dowd describes President Obama.

“Above the grubby political scene, unearthly and apart…” (Dowd wrote). Does your organization avoid public policy and advocacy work? Do you feed the hungry but avoid fighting for policy changes to reduce hunger? Do you only look at your own mission and forget about the rest of the community and its issues?

“Unlike L.B.J., who devoured problems…Obama’s main galvanizing impulse was to get himself elected. Almost everything else…seems like too much trouble.” Does your organization remain safely in the status quo, focused on mission without any attention to what affects your mission? Does your organization avoid all risks and steer clear of any potential conflicts?

“His circle keeps getting more inner.” How often does your organization go beyond its narrowest group of stakeholders? Do you reach beyond limiting borders to ask cage-rattling questions, engage in conversation, learn and change?

“The White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better.” (Dowd quoting Ezra Klein in Vox.) Do your leaders avoid taking positions in subjects that affect your organization and those you serve? Do you remain silent because you don’t want to offend a donor or a prospective donor or that very powerful board member you have?

“For [Obama], eating his spinach is schmoozing with elected officials.” (Dowd quoting Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri). Is that the way your CEO behaves – staying at his desk and avoiding community events, lunch gatherings, etc.? Do your board members hang out with each other and friends at events? Do your board members – and staff, too – understand that there job is to mingle and schmooze, going up to strangers and engaging in conversation?

“Sure, the president has enemies…But as F.D.R. said of his moneyed foes, ‘I welcome their hatred.’ Why should the president neutralize himself?” Is your organization at the right tables in your community? And, if necessary, do you fight to be at those tables? Are your leaders known as the quiet folks who aren’t seen much? Does your organization communicate regularly with its donors? Do you remind your donors that they are the heroes, not your organization?

“The country needs its president to illuminate and lead, not sink into some petulant expression of his aloofness…” Does your organization lead? Do your leaders speak out? Remember… silence is consent.

Our President makes me sad. And organizations and people like our President make me sad. To what degree are you willing and able to take risks…you and your organization? To what degree does your organization welcome challenges, embrace cage-rattling questions,  intentionally reach out and engage? To what degree do you, your leaders, and your organization speak out.

The world needs a strong nonprofit/NGO sector. And the sector needs strong organizations and strong leaders.

August 18, 2014

Change or irrelevancy?

Which one do you choose – change or irrelevancy?

I absolutely LOVE this statement; “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” (General Shinseki)

Sometimes an organization can’t afford not to change. Because if the organization doesn’t change… then it becomes irrelevant. Instead of promoting change, try focusing on irrelevance.

By the way, irrelevance usually isn’t sudden. It’s more gradual. Your organization just pokes along. Maybe a bit (or a bunch) of benign neglect (see my 07-14-14 blog). A few dashes of change denial.

And gradually, you’re barely there. Then you notice (or maybe not!) that you’re pretty much irrelevant.

Maybe we need to stop promoting change and start proactively avoiding irrelevance. Actually, that’s what good strategic planning does. Good planning tests your relevance, helps you change – or helps you intentionally and gracefully go out of business.

January 9, 2014

Info to help with your planning

Strategic planning or fund development planning or…

The quality of information you examine affects the quality of the plan you produce. (And, the process you use — information + stakeholder input — affects the quality of the plan you produce.)

Check out these pieces of information. I’ll be using this with my clients.

Also read the newly-posted article about stinky nonprofits. Learn from 12 experts about how to improve your donor retention (or renewal or loyalty) in 2014. See tips from Pam Grow, Lisa Sargent, Chuck Longfield, Nancy Schwartz, Mark Pitman, me … and more!

December 31, 2013

Creating an empathetic civilization – or we won’t survive!

Check out this absolutely marvelous and insightful video

Empathy… That’s what will save us all.

Make everyone you know watch it. EVERYONE! In schools in homes in organizations at board meetings… everyone everywhere.

This is what philanthropy is. This is what nonprofits/NGOs promote. And this human tendency – to be empathetic – is how we change the world…how we secure gifts of time and money to change the world.

Watch it. Use it. Remember it. Share it. Tweet it. Text it.

P.S. Check out a few new things that I’ve posted in my Free Download Library.

  • New ways to think about strategic planning.
  • Training tool to help your volunteers do face-to-face personal solicitation.
  • An overview of emotions, the very most critical thing you need to know for fundraising.
September 4, 2013

What I learned in a novel…

Distinction or difference or … See my musings a bit later in this blog, after this background:

I’ve told you before that I read a lot. And, yes, I read business stuff.

But I read popular culture, too. Popular culture…Soap operas to Terminator movies. Romance novels to mysteries. Teen fiction and Ian Fleming. Comics. And so much more.

Popular culture is actually an academic discipline, not just the fun that we all have. One of my professors at MSU – and a dear friend of our family – Russ Nye (Pulitzer Prize winner) wrote The Unembarrassed Muse: The Popular Arts in America. Wonderful book. And Russ co-founded the Popular Culture Association, “shaping a new academic discipline that blurred the traditional distinctions between high and low culture.” (Wikipedia)

I’ve always been a huge popular culture fan… Even with a masters degree in 20th century French and American literature – and part way through my PhD in the same (even though I never intended to teach at the university level; I just liked the study).

So I just finished another novel by Daniel Silva, with his character Gabriel Allon, Israeli spy and art restorer. The English Girl. And in the book is this statement: “Maybe it was a distinction without a difference.”

Hmmm… a distinction without a difference…a distinction with a difference… Insightful and useful.

For example:

  • I’m forever writing about the distinction between the board (the group) and the board member. I can tell that people think this is a distinction without a difference. But that’s just plain wrong! The distinction between the board and the board member  is big – and that distinction makes a very big difference over and over. Just read my various blogs. And see the materials in my Free Download Library.
  • Or how about the distinction between the board chair and other board members. That’s a distinction without much of a difference. The board chair has no more authority than any other board member, despite fantasies to the contrary. You can read about that in my blogs, too.
  • Is there a distinction between fundraising and fund development. Sometimes I think of “fundraising” as primarily the asking part. And I think “fund development” is more expansive and inclusive and strategic. But is the distinction particularly important, making a huge difference. To me, not so much.

Do we sometimes get caught up in the distinction…only to realize that the difference isn’t sufficiently substantial to matter? Do we even think about whether a particular distinction makes an important difference?

I’m forever collecting and creating cage-rattling questions (CRQs according to my students at Saint Mary’s University!) Maybe an important question for nonprofit organizations, boards, staff, fundraising, planning … maybe an important question for life is: What are the distinctions that make a difference – and what will we do about it? Or how about these CRQs:

  • How do we determine whether the distinction makes a difference?
  • How do we engage in conversations about distinctions that matter and those that don’t matter?
  • How do we avoid getting caught up in a conversation about distinctions that do or don’t make a difference – only to find ourselves stuck in a distinction without a difference?

Thanks, Messieurs Silva and Allon.

What do you learn from novels?

 

 

March 22, 2013

Planning for any future that could come along

I think we’re stuck in a status quo place. Faced with the rapidly changing world – and it’s been that way for a while – our strategic planning is too staid, too predictable, too standardized to plan for any future that could come along.

So, I’m constantly developing new approaches. I present my new thinking in workshops around the world. I’m using these approaches with my clients.

Here’s the big question: How can you and your organization recognize and anticipate, prepare for and respond to different situations, different futures? How can you use various vantage points (or lens) to plan for any future that could come along? What systems will you create to integrate these approaches into your work?

1. Recognize sustainable trends and temporary anomalies.What has changed permanently? What is more temporary?

2. Foresee the unforeseeable. The global economic crisis and recession weren’t a surprise. Neither is the chatter about the U.S. charitable deduction.

3. Distinguish between concern and alarm. If you’re a nuclear power plant, “concern” is Three Mile Island. “Alarm” is Fukushima Daichii.

4. Differentiate between risk and gamble. In military terms, able to get out versus no way out.

5. Anticipate unintended consequences. Identify them!

6. Imagine that the inconceivable becomes inevitable. Wow.

7. Identify the stop-loss moment, the military and stock market concepts. Maybe Greece’s exit from the eurozone will move from inconceivable to inevitable – and there will be that stop-loss moment when the inevitable must happen.

How is your planning going?

February 12, 2013

I’m #5 and very pleased!

The most listened to, most popular show in the nonprofit philanthropic sector…

Do you listen to Ted Hart’s Nonprofit Coach Radio show? Check it out. I’ve been on several times. Good information. Good guests. Good host, Ted Hart.

Today, Tuesday, February 12, Ted is announcing the “top ten episodes of all time.” And my show about strategic planning is #5. I’m darn proud. Listen to all of the top ten. Check out the other good topics and guests. Listen to the show. Enjoy and learn.

July 29, 2012

Anticipating your Fukushima Daiichi

And ensuring it doesn't happen

I’m always developing new ways to approach strategic planning – and to do governance better. For example:

— Instead of the traditional SWOT analysis (internal strengths and weaknesses, external opportunities and threats)…Consider exploring concerns and alarms. (If you were a nuclear power plant, concern would be Three Mile Island. And alarm would be Fukushima Daiichi.)

— How does something that is inconceivable become inevitable? How do we monitor and anticipate this?

— How can an organization foresee the unforeseeable? What are the processes to do so?

Use these questions in strategic planning. Also use these questions in ongoing management and governance.

Consider this approach:

What is our organization’s corporate culture that might enhance (or reduce) our ability to anticipate our own Fukushima Daiichi? How do we use top-notch management and extraordinary governance to analyze concerns and ensure that they don’t morph into alarms? How do we institutionalize strategic management and governance to foresee the unforeseeable?

Use real-life examples to explore the effectiveness of your organization’s management and governance. Engage the staff and board in these conversations. Use cage-rattling questions to generate meaningful conversation, to learn and to change. For example, use the Penn State fiasco as an example. Explore the Susan B. Komen Foundation mess. Test out BP and the Gulf oil spill. So many examples to choose from!

Read more »

May 6, 2011

Some thoughts about planning

What if you did this?

Distinguish between systemic risk and little bits of risk here and there. Systemic risk is the really big, bad thing. The BP Gulf oil spill fiasco is an example of systemic risk. Apparently the company had a history of poor safety…that would be systemic.

As your organization plans – whether short or long-range – determine where your systemic risks lie. And then significantly reduce those. Don’t be quite as concerned about the little bits of risk here and there.

Redundancy is an important thing. When there’s risk, organizations should build in redundancy for protection. How much redundancy was there in BP’s Gulf oil spill or at Fukushima?

But what protects the redundancy? More redundancy, Yes, effective organizations anticipate redundancy failure – and so build in more redundancy.

So imagine really good planning, whether short- or long-term: Identifying systemic risks and evaluating the levels of risk. Introducing redundancy for protection. Ensuring more redundancy to protect the redundancy. Yes, that’s the cost of doing business well, whether you’re a for-profit or nonprofit.

March 14, 2011

Useful distinctions

Helps us with planning

In the 3rd edition of my book Strategic Fund Development: Building Profitable Relationships That Last, I talk about RISK or GAMBLE. The military makes the distinction and I learned about the distinction during the Gulf Oil Spill. In summary, you can back out of a risk. But a gamble, not so much.

And today, on NPR, they were talking about CONCERN versus ALARM. Concern is like the Three Mile Island nuclear problem. Alarm is like Chernobyl.

Let’s use these when doing institutional strategic planning. Let’s use these when doing short-term planning, too. What is a risk or a gamble? What is a concern or an alarm? We could use these in our conversations about possibilities. We could use these in our decision-making.

Risk versus gamble. Concern versus alarm.

Simone Joyaux, ACFRE, Adv Dip, is an internationally recognized expert in fund development, board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management.

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