On paper, the job of a non-profit Board of Directors and the Executive Director is simple… in some ways. They set a strategic direction and make decisions that move the organization forward.
In reality, it isn’t so simple
A quick online search shows us that strategy is “a general plan or set of plans intended to achieve something, especially over a long period.” Okay, that makes sense. In the case of non-profits, it’s the process of making plans to achieve a goal over a set period.
What is a Strategic Decision?
So, specifically in the context of non-profits, what do we mean when we make a “strategic decision?”
We mean making decisions that align with the strategy (or direction) that we set overall: how we choose to operate, how we use our resources (people, time, money, or knowledge), what objectives we set for our teams (specific success metrics), and the actions or activities we focus on.
For example, determining whether we need to hire a Fundraiser will depend on whether raising additional funds is a core priority for the organization in the next three years. If it is not, then hiring a Fundraiser is unnecessary. If it is, then hiring a fundraiser may be a good idea, depending on your strategy for raising these funds. Are you looking to start a social enterprise? or to attract corporate sponsorships? In either of these cases, a Fundraiser may not have the proper skill set. You may need to hire someone with different skills (social enterprise development, business, corporate relationship building, pitching sponsorships, etc.).
Making strategic decisions ensures that you assess every decision point against your strategic and action plan to ensure alignment.
Check out the article Non-Profit Goals Unleashed: Connect Goals and Objectives for True Success for more insight into the essential link between goals and objectives.
In my experience, the key to strategy and strategic decisions is to set the strategic direction and goals, align our objectives and actions accordingly, AND evaluate each step to ensure it aligns with the strategic goals. This must be done at the Board, management, and staff levels for proper alignment.
Bringing Strategy to Life in Decision-Making
Unfortunately, the overall strategic vision for the organization can get lost in the day-to-day shuffle of competing priorities, such as defining the new fundraising position versus managing today’s funding crisis.
Past actions and habits also play a role here. Suppose an organization has not engaged their team in unrolling the strategic action plan into day-to-day decision-making and reporting. In that case, the team will fall back on old habits and decision-making criteria that do not reflect current priorities and goals. Confusion reigns when this happens as some staff push the new goals forward while others continue making decisions on outdated criteria.
The key to strategic decision-making is to ask: “Does this activity truly move me (the organization) towards our current goals and strategic direction?” If the answer is NO, then let it go. If it is YES, proceed.
The power of strategic planning emerges when all team members (the Board included) consider the strategic direction when making decisions:
How can we better align this program with our long-term strategic vision?
What new and emerging opportunities exist when the strategic vision/goals are considered?
What can I do today that will move me toward the strategic objectives assigned to me? Does what I am planning to do move us forward? If not, why am I spending time on it? What value does it bring?
Share your stories below in the comments about how your organization has navigated (or not navigated) the transition from old strategic goals to new ones and what has worked to help the team stay focused on the new goals and objectives.