A good plan should be like your favorite pair of jeans, neither too tight nor too loose. Too loose and you end up with your butt showing and that only works in the street not in the boardroom. Too tight and when the right partner/opportunity comes along you can’t dance/move. Or eat. A few holes may be cute but too many – whew, that’s not a pair of jeans, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Most nonprofits struggle with strategic planning and before we go down the path of thinking social sector organizations have some inherent deficiencies in this department perhaps it’s worthwhile to examine all the “anti-strategic” forces social sector leaders contend with. Institutional funders. Public policy makers. Corporate interests.
From here on please apply the “not all” disclaimer to these assertions. Of course not all funders are overcontrolling infantilizing dictators. Of course not all government contracts are exploitative minefields of unfunded mandates. Of course not every externally imposed program design is an extension of barbarically oppressive punishments for those who dare to have needs. But enough are over controlling and exploitative that these conditions discourage strategic thinking and strategic action. The climate in which social sector leaders work is fraught with discouraging narratives about lack and constraints, and filled with mistrust and disrespect toward those who deliver social programs and services.
Good strategic thinking and acting require an opportunity outlook. I define an opportunity outlook as the ability to consider possibility without regard for resources currently controlled. In other words, I can imagine heading in a particular direction with a particular destination in mind whether or not the current supporters will fund it. My thinking is not bound by what is currently lauded as acceptable. I can freely entertain ‘what ifs” based upon what is being requested by those we serve. Good planning and subsequent program design flows from this starting place of “what if”…
We must try not to be beaten down by those who lack imagination. At the same time we must try to ground our plans and outlook in what our organizations and our partners do well. Start with where we are strong and build out from that base. It helps to look at the totality of resources available in the arena – not just the ones we control – and then imagine how they might be arranged or expanded for greater impact.
Wrote this for everyone heading to work today – trying to stitch up the world so that it works better.