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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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The Shocking Truth About Strategic Planning
Karen Eber Davis

September, 2012

Too many nonprofit leaders endure the strategic planning process because someone, perhaps a donor, insists on it. To these leaders, developing and having a strategic plan is an entry ticket. It’s a piece of required paperwork to retrieve, as requested. For these leaders, developing a strategy is about checking off another box on an already lengthy to-do list. This is too bad, and a waste, and a shame. Why? Because the right strategy is the key that helps differentiates so-so nonprofits from ones that reach their potential.

Creating and using a good strategy is like owning top-of-the-line GPS equipment. A well-done strategy is like the rope a free diver follows in murky waters. In short, your strategy is a lifeline that leads you to your goals. Does your strategy provide you with these benefits? Take the strategy test below to find out. I developed it after working with hundreds of nonprofits on strategy over the last two decades. To complete the test, check off the boxes where your current strategy passes muster, and then total your score.

Karen’s Strategy Test

__ 1. Excited Energy. Are you and your leadership team excited by the strategy? Does it identify a good place to go that excites you? You don’t hear the word “excitement” very often in connection with strategy, but after a good strategy planning session, participants are usually tired (they thought hard), energized, and excited. You turn on your GPS and it bings, clicks, and flashes.  It’s energized and ready to help. Check this if people are excited about your strategy.

__ 2. Unique Fit. Does your strategy build on your organization’s skills and gifts? Is it you? Can anyone else propose and make this strategy fly as well as you? Good strategy is never about copying. Instead, it is about leading from your distinct perspective. A GPS-enabled strategy fits well only in your pocket. Check this box if your strategy is unique to you.

__ 3. Respected. With a GPS-enabled strategy, the direction you select is based on a thoughtful analysis of possibilities. The process of creating the strategy engages alterative viewpoints. This almost always means not selecting several worthy alternatives. Although everyone may not agree with the final strategy, the reasonable will see the logic of the choice, express respect for how the decisions were made, and agree that the strategy represents a reasonable approach. Does your strategy have the respect of those who prefer other options?

__ 4. Sacred Essentials Known and in Use. Are the sacred essentials of your strategy known and in use? Sacred essentials are the “must do” actions in your work that create the majority of the results. (See Added Value August 2012 for a longer discussion.) Sacred essentials are brief, like a GPS instruction, and can be shouted as the elevator closes between you and your donor, “We’re going to focus on the education of the mothers.” Check this if people share and use the sacred essential at your organization.

__ 5. Clarity. A GPS can be bossy. “At the next intersection, turn right.” Then, “Turn right, now.” A strategy that is busy providing direction doesn’t gather dust. It is busy poking you with the directives useful for decisions. Which donors might we contact? The ones most excited about the strategy. What should I do next? The action that is most consistent with the strategy. When you compare your strategy with what you might do, is there an answer? Check this if your strategy plays a major role in your decision-making.

__ 6. Solid Ground. If you ask Google Maps for walking directions to London from North America, you get an untenable itinerary that includes a kayak ride across the Atlantic. This kind of strategy is not a GPS-enabled strategy; it’s a fantasy. Unfortunately, too many strategic plans contain similar steps such as,  “Raise the money.” Does your strategy reveal a reachable, realistic path that you can logically trace? Even if the details are hazy, i.e., where to stay once you reach Great Britain, can you trace a solid path to there? Check this if the strategy is backed up by a can-do action plan.

__ 7Unique Journey that Navigates Traffic. Every night, you leave your office and you arrive home by your own path. No one else makes the same journey. No one else starts exactly from where you start and goes to your destination. Does your strategy identify and reflect your individual circumstances? Check this box if your strategy helps you to find your own path toward your vision.

__ 8. Endpoint Focus. While you can type in any location to a GPS, the equipment works best if you type in your destination. GPS-enabled strategies focus on the endpoint, but take details into account, changing and flexing for detours and new found shortcuts. The strategy doesn’t crash and fall to pieces when it encounters change. Does your strategy continue to provide guidance even when specific details change? Check this if your strategy is practical, flexible, and helps you focus on the main thing—moving toward the endpoint.


7 and 8 Total: Congratulations, your strategy is better than a top-of-the-line GPS! Contact me to renew it or tweak it and to maximize its use.

5 or 6 Total: Your strategy lifeline is wobbly; contact me to help you make it much more useful and help your organization to streamline its efforts.

4 or less Total: Ouch. If anyone asks if you have a strategy, say yes and hope they don’t ask for a copy. Better yet, tell them that you are upgrading it and then email me to get started. Your nonprofit toolbox is missing a hammer and measuring tape.

More About the GPS Enabled Strategy Process TM

You won’t get a GPS-enabled strategy by using the tired and overused SWOT or fill-in-the-last-year’s-chart approach. To get top-of-the-line quality, your strategy development process is critical. My GPS Enabled Strategy Process TM includes a series of perfected steps that help nonprofits to identify their destinations and a unique path to get there. The Process helps nonprofits differentiate themselves from peers and craft their own unique journey, while taking in ever-changing road conditions. To learn in detail how the GPS Enabled Strategy Process can be applied to your organization, email me.

Karen Eber Davis may be found at


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