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How to Think Strategically at Your Non-Profit

Your non-profit does great work, but you don't have unlimited resources (such as time, money, or people-power).  That's why your organization needs to think strategically in everything you do.  The world is counting on your non-profit in a systematic way, without burning out your team.

Thinking strategically means that you don’t just “fall into” doing things at your non-profit. Instead, you should be moving with purpose at your organization – making plans, setting goals, and then working to achieve those goals.  So many organizations tend to just throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.  This is not a good way to do things, and will ultimately cause frustration and burnout.

Want to learn how to get more done with less at your non-profit?  Here are some tips on how to think strategically at your organization:

Start with Your End Goal in Mind.  Think: How do We Ultimately Achieve our Goal?

When planning, always start by looking at the end goal.. and do all of your planning through the lens of reaching that goal.  Think to yourself, What one big thing are we trying to achieve?”  Then write your plan with 100% focus on reaching that goal.

Many non-profits include things in their plans just because people tell them they should be doing a certain thing, or because they want to emulate what other non-profits are doing.  For example, many organizations add a gala event to their schedule because people say “oh, you should have a big fundraising gala!”  This is the wrong way to approach things.

Don’t add events, letters, or any other strategy for the wrong reasons.  Look at your goal first, and then figure out how to reach that goal.  If there’s something at your non-profit that you are currently doing that does not help you reach your goal, stop doing it.  Don’t do things a certain way just because you have always done them that way.  Likewise, never add a new strategy or tactic unless it helps you achieve the big picture goals for your non-profit.

Be Ambitious but not Too Ambitious

Your non-profit does good work, so it is important that you think big and set ambitious goals… but don’t make your goals so big that they are unachievable.  People at your organization (including staff and management) should be just a little nervous about meeting the goals and timelines in your plans – but not too nervous.  It's hard to thread the needle, but you want your plans to be so big that people are worried about getting everything done, but not so big that they burn out.

Good plans help motivate people by setting ambitious goals.  Bad plans are so ambitious that they actually discourage people and make them do less, because they know that the goals you have set are not grounded in reality.

Plan for Growth

My suggestion is that your non-profit should always plan for growth.  In your strategic plans, plan as if your non-profit is going to do more next year than this year, and more the year after that.  The same is true for fundraising plans.  You should plan to raise more next year than this year, and even more the year after that.

You may think this goes without saying, but many non-profits plan as if they are in stasis – they write their plans as if they are going to keep on doing what they have always done, or perhaps grow organically, doing and raising 1% more next year than they did this year.  Your staff, donors, and volunteers will not get excited about things being the same next year as this year. Plan for growth, and cast a big vision for your supporters and team.

Don’t Be Bound by Past Mistakes

As mentioned earlier, it is very important that your non-profit not do things a certain way just because you have always done them this way.  If you made a mistake in your planning in the past – for example, adding a program that you shouldn’t have, or adding a new fundraising strategy that isn’t working – don’t be bound by it in your current planning.

Great for-profit companies pivot away from mistakes all the time. Your non-profit should so the same.  Each new plan that you write is an open book… writing a new plan includes a chance for your non-profit to right the wrongs and mistakes of the past and create new opportunities for your organization.

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