Arts LeadersBest Practices

Got Strategy?

By July 14, 2017No Comments

There are good organizations, and then there are great organizations. At DUNCH we’ve had the pleasure of working with nonprofits across all artistic disciplines—from large organizations at the top of their fields to those growing operations gaining an important foothold in the industry. But what’s the difference between good organizations and great ones?

Truly great organizations all have at least four elements in common:

  • A mission and programs that are unique and relevant;
  • Visionary and disciplined artistic, executive and Board leadership;
  • A strong set of values that is expressed in the programming and how the organization conducts business; and
  • A strategic plan that details where the organization is going and how it intends to get there.

Lose any one of these elements, and an organization can stagnate. Having a strong, strategic vision and being able to execute it is perhaps the biggest difference between a good and a great nonprofit organization. So, got strategy?

Whether it’s your organization’s first strategic planning process or you’ve been to the party many times, strategic planning is critical to advancing your mission or maintaining your position of excellence. Companies often launch a planning process at an inflection point in their history: a change in leadership, growth in activities or conversely, a major loss in revenue.

A strategic plan helps everyone get laser-focused on what’s most important in the short and long-term. It can also help an organization identify debilitating environmental challenges before they arise like succession, real estate issues, or sea changes in the political or economic climate.

Your process might begin with a typical SWOT query analysis that identifies your company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats:

  • What strengths do you bring to the field?
  • What are you really good at?
  • What weaknesses exist that compromise your ability to carry out your mission?
  • Are there opportunities to be leveraged that could improve or expand your work?
  • Do any threats exist that could impede progress towards your goals?

Another popular version of this exercise is a SOAR analysis, which replaces the areas of weaknesses and threats with the more positive spin of Aspirations and Results. Whichever method you use, make sure that you approach the planning ready to answer tough questions about your work.

And it’s not just you; strategic plans shouldn’t be created in a vacuum. It’s important to involve stakeholders that are representative of your community—including senior staff, Board members, artists, and oftentimes donors—who could share resources to fuel your future ambitions. Creating a new strategic vision requires building consensus amongst all the people who care about your organization.

Once you map out your plans, it’s important to monetize your ideas and understand how the future you’ve envisioned will affect you financially. What challenges do you foresee? Is your plan pragmatic? How will you adjust course if changes occur internally or externally?

To ensure that your plan doesn’t sit on a shelf collecting dust, assign specific tactics to individual staff and board members with hard reporting deadlines. If appropriate, share your plan widely to get buy-in from your community of supporters. Be proud of the work you’ve accomplished and the direction you’re headed.

As you begin implementing your strategic plan, remember that it doesn’t mean there’s no room to be opportunistic. Rather, it’s a tool that can help diffuse opportunities that are off-mission or a needless distraction from what the organization has set as its priorities.

If a strategic plan is one of the few things that sit between your leading a good organization and great one, then what are you waiting for?

By Jill Garland, Vice President