Cartoonist Allen Saunders said it first and John Lennon made it sing: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” These days, most nonprofit leaders must know the feeling.
You invested in a strategic planning process, you worked through a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), you articulated coherent and realistic objectives. Everything seemed to line up — until your world got turned upside down by the pandemic and its aftershocks.
Key employees got sick. Funders stopped returning calls. Community centers where you meet your clients were shuttered. Volunteers stayed at home, quarantined, unable to help you like they said they would. How do you carry out your carefully-crafted strategic plan if “life” gets in the way?
“These are five things your nonprofit might do to stay the course,” according to Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Since you can’t rely on the old habits or the old assumptions, now’s a good time to renovate the way you go about your business.”
- Make new allies. You aren’t the only ones trying to address the need. This might be a good time to reach out to other organizations (nonprofits, small businesses, churches, local governments) to see how you might team up to get the job done. All you’ll have to do is give up exclusive ownership of success.
- Talk less, listen more. It is time to bring the voices of the organization’s “customers” into the planning process. You might have done a needs assessment – but needs have probably changed. You might have planned programs to respond to community concerns but those concerns have probably mutated.
- Treat every morning like Monday morning. Fresh start, new information, updates from colleagues, a calendar reset — these are the upsides of a new work week. These days, the pandemic has made uncertainty the new normal. See if your organization can find the energy in this fact to approach your work with the “beginner’s mind” and consider the possibilities.
- Engage your supporters. This is the time to bring your major donors and funders into the conversation. They shouldn’t expect you to have it all figured out (their crystal balls are cloudy, too). Share your challenges, invite collaboration, ask them for flexibility as you work to set a course.
Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “in battle, plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” This means that nonprofit leaders need to integrate a planning process into the day-to-day work of the organization. Make time for it. Give it parity with delivering services and raising money. Challenge assumptions and learn new ways to think about getting where you want to go.
Yesterday’s map doesn’t match today’s journey.