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Rainmaker-Solutions.net Nonprofit Books Review
on June 7, 2013
NONPROFIT BOOK REVIEW: The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution
This approach to strategic planning seems more additive than revolutionary.
It was published in 2008, however, so perhaps its groundbreaking claims are plausible.
The idea of "real-time" strategic planning does reiterate and complement principles that stand in stark contrast to traditional strategic-planning models (e.g. SWOT analysis and episodic three-year planning efforts). Unfortunately, these plans are largely abandoned by nonprofit managers, because of shifting circumstances, such as staff turnover; and because they are not benchmarked and integrated into the management process.
I have never appreciated the traditional model, but I understand its origins. I know how it became the standard. I have written before that these models - borrowed from business schools - are based on the premise that its outcomes - such as the company's products and services - generate much of the company's revenue. For most nonprofits, the outcome of the strategic-planning process - the organization's programs and services - is a cost. It is a highly valuable, but inherently unprofitable outcome. Oops! This misalignment renders traditional business planning and strategic planning models inappropriate and sometimes harmful to nonprofit planning efforts.
As a result, organizations often adopt separate "development" plans, unaligned with their strategic planning objectives. Its a common organizational weakness: those who raise money, those who manage money, and those who conduct programs...are rarely on the same page - literally. This "how-to" manual both validates my professional experience, while adding new insights to the ongoing debate about the relevance of strategic planning.
In particular, I endorse the idea that strategic planning is a cyclical, continuous and integrative process, indispensable to healthy growth. I appreciate how it clarifies terms such as strategy, competitive advantage and differentiation, giving them a nonprofit context. In both business and nonprofits, these words are often used, but rarely based on a common understanding. I also appreciate how the author incorporates finance and fundraising at the foundation of its strategy pyramid. Guess what, folks? Finance and fundraising are no longer separate - and sometimes adversarial - functions...this insight alone is a remarkable step forward.
The author does appears to skip the one point that brings his concept full circle: this continual process of engaging major donors, incorporating their influence into the strategic plan, and reporting back on our success, transforms program outcomes into charitable revenues. It reconciles the discrepancy between the purpose of strategic planning for businesses vs. nonprofits. It gives these outcomes a philanthropic value that translates into more, greater investments from donors..that's how we can reconcile this fundamental distinction between business and nonprofit planning.
The author then develop his core concepts (and their priorities) into a realistic process. I especially appreciate the steps called "the strategy screen" and "the big question." The strategy screen filters group debate through constraints like mission parameters and feasibility. The big question is my favorite idea. It represents the broadest, biggest challenge, confronting the organization - the proverbial elephant in the living room. For one example: "How can we thrive in an environment dominated by larger, more influential organizations?"
There is so much more to this book. It is a rich, refreshing perspective on how to revitalize the core concepts about the relevance of strategic planning, and how to make the benefits tangible to all stakeholders. If you have an interest in this topic, it is an important addition to your library, becuause it forces you to think beyond the episodic, SWOT-driven traditional models.