Most every non-profit thinks they are all set and ready to go when their strategic plan is done. This is a tragic mistake. In nearly every one of the non-profit strategic plans we have read, fuzzy thinking dominates:
* Do they have quantitative goals? Sometimes.
* Are these goals backed up with metrics, timelines, and reporting? Almost never.
What about scale? Are the goals aiming for growth that is meaningful, compared to the size of the problem the org is addressing? Too scary.
* Is there a detailed, three- to five-year expense projection that calculates how much all this will cost? Rare as hen's teeth.
* Has the org projected out how all this is going to get paid for? Money? We don't like to talk about money.
* Is there a clear, concise, compelling picture of revenue generation from individuals, foundations, corporations, government agencies and earned income? Corporate affinity programs? Licensing campaigns? Social impact bonds? Nope – Let’s pack people in a room and sell them Stairmasters.
• Is all this boiled down to a compelling, concise, comprehensive, five- to 10-page document that people can actually read and understand?
We've never seen a non-profit plan with all these essential pieces, despite having read a bazillion. (Got one that has all this stuff? Please send it to us.)
The good news is: There’s something much better. It's a familiar tool used by tens of thousands of organizational leaders, every day of the year, all around the world. It holds the key to your organization's transformation from a small, struggling non-profit, into a thriving, high performance enterprise.
Write a Business Plan
1. Keep them drafty – Stop wordsmithing. Go for practical and simple. Lose the graphics, pictures and poetry.
2. Get them 75 percent done, and then start sharing them with people who have experience building successful teams and growing organizations. Ask for their feedback. Iterate.
3. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Focus on numbers more than words.
4. Make the plan real – Create transparency and accountability. Measure everything.
5. Use your plan as your internal roadmap for staff and as your chief engagement tool for partners and investors.
Start by tossing out your mission, vision and values. Let's be honest here – that approach creates a lot of existential noise. The world needs practical solutions, not philosophy or flavor words. Instead, use plain, simple words and numbers to describe:
- What problem you are solving
- Why your org is the best one to solve it
- What success looks like (SMART goals please)
- Your specific milestones to getting there
- Metrics and key performance indicators
- Your financial projection – detailed, income and expenses, going out three to five years
When non-profits use this method they begin the exciting transformation to a much more effective type of organization – a social enterprise.
The result? We start to slay the scary monsters. Problems are getting solved. Non-profits are thriving.
Disciplined, focused, concise, practical business planning is the key to launching the entire social sector down the path to actually solving problems. Replace your strategic plan with a business plan and you are on your way.
Donald Summers, founder and managing director of Altruist Partners LLC, is a speaker, author, social entrepreneur and management consultant with a long track record of catalyzing dramatic gains in impact, growth and performance. His clients influence state, federal and international laws and regulations, and are regularly featured in major media outlets such as The New York Times and "60 Minutes." In addition, his essays, articles and commentary have been published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Chronicle of Higher Education and Harvard Magazine.