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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.
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on December 18, 2012
Down to earth, hands on approach to strategic planning processes (in contrast to the traditional emphasis on producing a detailed written strategic plan). The book is readable, well-organized, and thoughtful. Unfortunately it comes without the CD - they refer you to a website and give you a passcode instead, but the downloadable files were gobbledy-gook, and the phone number and email address listed on the web page no longer worked. I suspect this is because the original publisher has been bought twice since the book first came out.
Some, but not all, of the resources listed as being on the CD are included in the book. I am on the board of a local community non-profit, and am intrigued by this approach.
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on April 26, 2015
A great guide to nonprofit strategic planning. It's a thoughtful and exciting approach to strategic planning that's more about strategy (what directions to head, how to move in that direction, and why) than plans (goals for coming years). I wouldn't limit myself to this one book. I'd recommend Nonprofit Strategy Revolution, along with Nonprofit Sustainability by Bell, Masaoka, and Zimmerman and The Sustainability Mindset by Bell and Zimmerman. The strategy screen combined with competitive advantages, mission and vision is a helpful approach. I add core competencies. It doesn't focus much on resource development or organizational culture, so those are areas that may need further attention. However, it does get away from the group think involved in some approaches. Additionally, it really focuses on the strategic direction of the organization whereas many planning processes mistakenly put objectives rather than true strategies at the top of the pyramid. This book stands head and shoulders above most strategic planning books in terms of moving towards in a clear direction.
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on February 10, 2014
As a consultant, I have shelves of books on nonprofit management. This is the book which I use and refer the most to others. It is thought provoking while being practical. What makes this book worth every penny, besides the content is that it comes with all the tools you will need to go through the process with your organization.
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on August 14, 2013
Strategic plans are ubiquitous, but making a good and relevant one is more difficult. La Piana's book gives good advice and points you in the right direction, even if it falls short of being revolutionary in my opinion. If you need a strategic plan (or just strategy), this is a good place to start.
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on January 22, 2011
This book is very hands-on practical for those who want to think and plan in the real world. He provides the reasoning needed and the framework for making strategizing a practical process. All of the forms needed are provided, as well as the format for a full day planning session with your team.
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on May 22, 2013
I've used this book to facilitate several strategic planning sessions with great results. Online tools are also great. I highly recommend for any nonprofit professional.
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on February 22, 2013
Great book to add to my tool box. As a business consultant to nonprofits, this book is essential to incorporate in your tool box of top reads.
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on March 7, 2015
What an excellent resource that is still relevant today. I am so pleased I purchased this book prior to leading a strategic planning discussion with our organization. While there is no longer a CD, I was able to locate the full link to toolkits and resources on the publisher's website. What a trove of information and assisted guidance! These are practical tools that will truly help you plan and facilitate strategic discussions in your organization. Highly recommended!
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on February 23, 2016
Insightful, enlightening, well written, well documented. A must read for both seasoned and newcomers to nonprofits.
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