The Butterfly Effect
It seems that every time we start a planning process, someone on the board or staff sends a link to an article that declares that strategic planning is dead. Too archaic. Not fast past enough. Too long a planning horizon.
Well, saying strategic planning is dead sure makes a great headline.
But, no, strategic planning is not dead. Though we have seen plans we’d like to kill.
Can you be the master of your fate without strategy?
Yes, your organization needs to be flexible, adaptive and responsive to changes in your environment. But that’s not an excuse for never planning.
Too many plans are heavy on the operational details, really more of a business plan that prioritize tactics for strategy.
Here are a five posts to guide your way to producing plans that matter.
1. Strategic planning is all about your thinking
Seeking out data, talking to others, grappling with questions, pursuing answers, creating frameworks, crunching numbers — that is the strategic planning. The written report is just the codification. Here are a few questions to spark your thinking.
2. Clarify your logic model
We are logic model fanatics. Well, kind of. We love them because they put down on paper all of the assumptions your organization is making about how your will create the change you want to see in the world. Surprise! You weren’t all in alignment. Now you can be.
3. Stress test your plan
We are always grateful when board members push hard on plans. What if we stress test a recent decision against the plan framework? he asked. Here’s how that worked.
4. Speaking of board members, when should they be involved?
Beginning, middle, end? All along the way? Really, there is no one right answer. Here are some ideas to help you assess what is right for you.
5. Five must haves for your strategic planning to produce action
Finally, bringing your plan to life requires more than just good thinking. Here’s what else you’ll need.
Has boring put your board to sleep? Is it the arcane machinery of Roberts Rules? Pointless reports? Endless discussions? Trivial debates?
Here are five tools you can use to help transform sleepy board meetings from ennui to engagement.
- Move that table out of the room. Suddenly, you’re sitting in a circle with no head of the table to establish hierarchy and nothing to hide behind. If you can’t move the table, move the board members.
- Serve food. Sharing a meal creates human connections, starts conversations and sets the mood for a great meeting.
- Break into small groups. Especially on larger boards, many participants never say a word. You might be missing a brilliant insight. Small group discussion helps advance board thinking as members help each other refine and develop good ideas.
- Take notes on flip charts. Recording key points where members can see them as the meeting moves along assures board members they’ve been heard. Flip chart notes provide structure and a sense of progress through the agenda.
- Move people around. Too many board members never get to know their board colleagues. Move table tents at each meeting. A new perspective on the meeting space may also open the door to a fresh look at the board’s business.
What are your seating arrangements? Have you thought about how far apart your board members sit at a meeting?
I was interviewing a pretty amazing board chair on a project recently. She was telling me how much more engaged the current board was and how much they were feeling like a team.
Then she added this:
“I think some of that is because our board members are sitting around one relatively small table, unlike other boards where the table is in one giant U and people are far apart from one another. It’s harder to be separate from the rest of the group when you sit close together.”
Whack on the side of the head! I had to stop and write it down. Distance in the board room does not necessarily make the heart grow fonder!
Take note of how far apart your team is.
You’ve experienced this, I’m sure. Multiple tables are configured into a big U or rectangle, but there is great distance between the tables. While board members may be able to see each other, they are physically very far away from one another. It’s often easy to hide when you are far apart.
Of course, there are many considerations in table seating and you’ll find a lot of research on this subject. Here is some anecdotal information I’ve experienced over the years:
- When the meeting facilitator sits at the “head of the table,” it increases their perceived authority. So if you see yourself as a collaborative leader, take a seat in the middle.
- Folks like to sit where they sat before. So use table tents and move seating around from meeting to meeting. It encourages board members to get to know folks they don’t know as well.
- Get everyone up to the table. It’s easy to hide in the back row and it signals distance from the rest of the group. If the table isn’t big enough, find a new space to meet. (Or maybe your board has gotten way too big).
Maybe King Arthur had the solution.. a round table.
Fundraising fundamentals were the topics of the talk by Robert Beagle, the now retired VP for Advancement at the University of Rhode Island at our AFP chapter’s 2018 annual meeting. The chapter members appreciated hearing from a seasoned professional.
Here are Bob’s tips from many years of successful fundraising:
- Above all, relationships are at the core of fundraising. Develop trust with your donors. They want to hear from you when you aren’t asking for money. Stay in touch, stay connected.
- Find common ground with your donors. Get to know your donors so you understand what is important to them. Be curious about their lives and what they value.
- Be an effective listener. You get to know your donors by listening to them. Donors want to talk about themselves.
- People don’t give to your organization because you need money. Donors want to know how you are making a difference, how the community is benefiting. Donors don’t give to “losers.” Why give to the cancer center? Donors want to give to helping people live, to curing the disease.
- Never assume you know what a donor wants to give to. The number one mistake for many fundraisers is making decisions for their donors before you even have a conversation. Find out what your donors care about and want to give to.
- People don’t give to meet your goal. Why should anyone care about your goal? Bob hates appeals that are all about how much funding you need to reach the end of your fiscal year. Translate your needs into benefits and outcomes – what are you going to do with their gifts?
- Always remember that giving is an investment. Just like investing in stock, donors want meaningful returns. They can give for the short term and for the long term. And if their investment in you produces those returns, they’ll invest again.
- Be prepared to explain how your organization makes a difference. Why are you relevant? What are you doing that others aren’t? What would happen if your organization went away? These are the fundamental components of your case for support.
Bob also shared that he felt that marketing studies can be very, very helpful to fundraising as a way to understand your community and donors. And that a good donor management database is an essential part of every successful fundraising program.
I’d agree. Fundraising fundamentals. And the key to success.
At some point in every Batman comic book, tv show, or movie, Batman retires to the giant batcave under his mansion. And in his “Batcave” he refuels the Batmobile, he gets some food from Alfred the Butler, he uses the giant Batcomputer, maybe he runs some tests in the Batlabratory or synthesizes some antidote.
All of this leads to some massive revelation that refocuses the World’s Greatest Detective on the challenge presented to him in that issue/episode/film. It’s usually the breakthrough moment in the story. Everything else from that point on is Batman winning unreservedly.
No one in Gotham ever sees this. To them, Batman is the Caped Crusader running around at night responding to the Bat Signal and being a superhero. There’s no boring laboratory Batman, or Batman hunched in a desk chair flipping through databases. Batman is all action and impact, and the strategy and thought are invisible. They don’t see the most important part, they only see the outcome.
Why am I talking about Batman on a blog that’s meant largely for nonprofits and consultants?
We get into charity work to make the difference, to be heroes in our own way. There aren’t superheroes in real life, there’s only advocates and activists and dreamers. We see these people making their difference, and many of us jump in with both feet expecting to make the same difference. And many of us fail.
It’s because we don’t put the time into building our Batcaves. The part people see is only half the work. As much, if not more, time and resources go into the Batcave as the crime-fighting. If you want to be smart, if you want to be performing your mission for years to come, you need a database. An Alfred to fuel up the Batmobile. The place where you examine and reevaluate your strategy.
You need a Batcave.
Innovation and Scaling for Impact won the Terry McAdam Book Award in the fall of 2018.
The pair have been studying innovation for years. When asked by a large international foundation to help them assess the capacity of NGOs for continuous innovation, they had to ask why this is even a desired goal. We all find that funders and business leaders are pushing nonprofits to “innovate” more.
Not so fast, say Seelos and Mair.
Innovation is hard.
- Quoting James March from Stanford University: “Most new ideas are bad ideas.”
- If your NGO expects success immediately from innovation you are likely to be frustrated. But if learning is a key objective for your attempts at innovation, you will not fail.
- Innovation and scaling are not the same.
- It is not innovation that creates impact, but the scaling of the innovation.
- Understand how innovation is part of a long term strategy.
- Push back against funders that are too focused on quick fixes and too much innovation. Help funders understand organizational realities.
- Be a good scaler first.. stay close to the problem, fine tune it, prototype changes, assess them, keep looking for reasons why it might not work, keep your eyes open to unintended consequences, positive and negative.
Within any innovation process there are six types of uncertainties to pay attention to:
- Problem and context: Do you really understand your problem? Do you really understand the circumstances surrounding your problem?
- Solution: What resources and requirement are necessary to support any solution.
- Adoption: Will others take up the innovation?
- Consequence: What are the side effects? Are there unintended negative or positive consequences of the innovation?
- Identity: Perhaps the innovation is successful, but it distracts your organization from its core mission, from addressing the problem you were attempting to solve.
Try to clear the hurdles or pathologies of innovation to open possibilities in your organization:
- Never starting
- Managing too many bad ideas
- Stopping too early
- Stopping too late
- Insufficient exploitation, e.g. not scaling and learning from the scaling.
- Innovating again too soon.
While the examples are from South Asia, the book is worth a read for any nonprofit.
We talk a lot in fundraising circles about gratitude. We hear over and over again how we need to honor all of our donors.
But then organizations revert to form and tier their gratitude based on how much money they receive. The biggest gifts get the most personalized thank yous. The biggest donors get priority mention in the annual report and appear at the top of the donor wall and are forever fixed in our minds, remembered by name and amount.
The little gift donor barely registers.
Yet that small gift may be a much bigger act of philanthropy than some of those large gifts on which you heap recognition and praise. How often do you celebrate that small gift? Do you stop to think how much of a sacrifice that tiny amount might have been from someone of limited means or on a fixed income?
So when I saw this message bubbling with gratitude on Facebook, I knew I had to share it with you.
With the permission of its author, Henrietta White-Holder, founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, I bring you a close-up, truly authentic example of loving your donor for their act of generosity:
“Lounging around and I received a notification on my phone that someone had made a donation to HGI via our website.
“I checked, and there it was – a wonderful woman had donated $10.00 (ten dollars).
“I found it very significant and heartwarming that she would think of us in such a loving and kind way to donate what she could. It is not the amount that matter[s] but the fact that she contributed in such a thoughtful way means a LOT to us.
“Now, her generous gift of $10.00 is going to help purchase ice melt to help keep the premises of the HGI’S Rukiya Center safe!
“Oh, Happy Day! ❤”
Thank you so much, Henrie, for reminding each of us that donor love starts within our own hearts.
“Geography is an artificially constructed barrier” to recruiting and keeping great directors for your board. “Why would you let geography stop you from your work of changing the world?”
So says Jaime Campbell, nonprofit board member, accountant and co-owner and CFO of Tier One Services LLC.
I met Jaime when we had both responded to a Facebook discussion where some nonprofit staff were unhappy (uneasy?) about board meetings where everyone was not in the very same room at the same time. I asked Jaime if I might interview her about her own board and professional experiences across geographic boundaries. She graciously offered her time.
So we met face-to-face, though we sat over 1,400 miles from each other. We spoke using Zoom, Jaime from her South Florida office and I from my office in Rhode Island.
Today’s board members are on the move. And busy with other obligations.
You know how difficult it is to find meeting times that work for all. So why make it hard for directors to participate from a distance.
National and international nonprofits have had to adapt to board members in different locations for many years. Read more
Thank you to the Nonprofit Support Program of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving for hosting a great workshop yesterday with Lindsay Bealko of Toolkit Consulting on the strategy of nonprofit technology.
I think it is safe to say that none of the consultants in the room needed a lot of convincing to recognize the impact of quickly shifting technology innovations on our clients. For smaller nonprofits, it’s always a challenge to keep up.
But Lindsay reminded us not to get caught in the maelstrom of products and approaches.
Focus on the strategy of your technology first! As Lindsay said, the “so what” of technology matters — and this slide quickly illustrates what the point of using technology should be.
Can you think of an area of nonprofit functioning where technology doesn’t enhance or hold you back? I’d include finance, fundraising, program delivery, measurement and evaluation, community engagement, communications both inside and outside of your organization, media relations, revenue collection, even governance.
We found Lindsay’s 3 level framework for investment extremely compelling:
- Start with your basic infrastructure. Does it work? Is it secure? Do you have ongoing investments needed to stay stable. Then,
- Integrate technology to enhance your service delivery. Then, if you have the bandwidth,
- Innovate. How can technology to create greater impact for your mission?
Beware our clients! We’ll be ramping up attention to technology in our strategic planning work. It’s always been included, especially as we do fundraising planning, but we are going to push you harder in this area of your strategy and planning.
Many kudos once again to NSP for not only hosting this workshop for consultants, but for providing nonprofits in the Greater Hartford area with the funding and technical consulting to assess their technology needs and develop strategic technology plans.
The Terry McAdam Book Award is given annually. It honors an innovative book that advances the field of non-profit capacity building. Books chosen for review have been published in the last two years, are not textbooks and are available commercially.
And the 2017 winner is:
Innovation and Scaling for Impact by Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair. Stanford University Press.
The authors examine these two concepts in more detail, making important distinctions between them.
Here’s what the review Committee said about this book:
“In their eye-opening book, Seelos and Mair bring clarity to the differences between innovation and scaling, as well as the relationship of one to the other. While still encouraging levels of appropriate risk, they argue persuasively that nonprofits should focus far more resources on scaling programs they know have positive outcomes than on innovating where uncertainty about outcomes could drain resources.
“The authors provide guidance and worksheets to help leaders determine where innovation is appropriate. They identify types and levels of uncertainty, and incorporate lessons learned. They also emphasize the importance of scaling successful innovations for the benefit of an organization’s constituents. While case studies focus on larger international NGOs, leaders of smaller and domestic nonprofits will also find this book valuable.”
Past winners have included some books you may know:
- The Sustainability Mindset: Using the Matrix Map to Make Strategic Decisions by Steve Zimmerman and Jeanne Bell
- Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money by Kivi Leroux Miller
- Measuring the Networked Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World by Beth Kanter and Katie Delahaye Paine
It was a privilege to serve on the committee. The choice of a winner was not easy as there were quite a number of valuable books. Over the next few weeks I’ll share a few other books you might want to put on your reading list.