Join Leslie Crutchfield for an in-depth discussion in this video Mapping out a winning strategy, part of Nonprofit Foundations.
- When I'm giving advice to nonprofit leaders on how to build an effective strategy, I like to define strategy this way, a winning strategy shows where you're going to play and how you're gonna win. Developing a strategic plan is important because it defines not only what you plan to do but also what you're not going to do. The leading strategy thinker Michael Porter argues that the essence of strategy is about making deliberate choices to perform activities differently than, not just better than, your rivals do.
So a good strategy will help you make choices about how to allocate your organization's limited resources, your staff and volunteer time, the funds you raise or earn, and the social and intellectual capital that you offer. Let's look at the strategy of a high-impact nonprofit, City Year. City Year started in Boston with a core of 60 young people giving a year of community service. As the model for AmeriCorps, within two decades City Year had launched youth corps in 21 cities and had a budget of about 40 million.
So while this organization had grown substantially, the CEO felt that the nonprofit could achieve more targeted, measurable impact. He said, "We needed to show that national service "wasn't just nice, but necessary." So City Year did a 180 degree strategic turnaround. It developed a new strategic plan, examining all of its programs and activities, assessing what elements should be kept and what needed to go. Then, the group shifted its entire focus.
It pivoted from having its young volunteers perform a range of community services, like fixing up playgrounds, refurbishing shelters, or tutoring students. And instead they would serve in only the most troubled public schools, the dropout factories. By narrowing its focus and making the strategic choice to work only in schools, City Year corps members were able to help thousands of at-risk youth stay in school and ultimately graduate. Paradoxically, even though City Year narrowed its focus, it grew its impact significantly.
It also grew in size, moving to new cities, and doubling the annual budget to 80 million by 2010. The new strategic positioning hadn't narrowed the organization's impact, but instead deepened its impact in the cities where it was operating. And it also opened up new state-based funding streams, for which it had not previously been eligible. City Year had mapped out a winning strategy, and they figured out where they wanted to play and how they were gonna win. Now you can develop a winning strategy for your nonprofit by developing your own strategic plan.
This plan should include both intensive internal and external thinking. It begins with articulating the mission and your vision for the organization and also includes an assessment of the external landscape in which you play. Then, you're gonna want to conduct an objective analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of your organization and what your best position to contribute to advancing in your cause area. Strategic plans also include an outline of the activities that your group will undertake to carry out your mission and vision.
Now most strategic plans cover about a three to five year time frame, and they're revisited at the end of that period. Take a look at some of the items in the exercise files, which depict some of the core elements of typical strategic plans. And remember, a successful strategic plan is at its most basic level, a usable plan. It informs your nonprofit's near-term activities in light of your long-term vision. And the best strategic plan will show where you're gonna play and how you're gonna win.
- Shaping your vision and strategy
- Fundraising via grants, partnerships, and social media
- Hiring staff
- Working with volunteers
- Understanding board governance and nonprofit financial accounting
- Scaling the organization and impact
- Becoming a nonprofit leader