Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on March 26th, 2009 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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Painted into corner 

Strategy, strategy, strategy.  If ever there were a word that should guide us now, it’s strategy  And yet, too many nonprofits don’t “get” strategy.  They don’t like strategy.  They somehow think it is a dirty word, and not of benefit to them.  And thus they continue to go about their business reacting.  They react to financial difficulties by reflexively cutting budgets.  No strategy is involved, no thought to core competencies, protecting the ability to fulfill the mission, etc.   And then they complain when a donor doesn’t fund them as before because the funder has gotten—okay, i’ll say it—more strategic in where his/her/its dollars are going. A few days before I was to facilitate a recent strategic planning session, I got a phone call from the organization’s board president.  At the board meeting a few days earlier, a number of board members couldn’t understand why the group was going to waste a whole day on strategic planning when it really needed to pay attention to its fiscal health and sustainability in light of the current economy.  Just how would those board members propose addressing the question of financial sustainability without a strategic plan?  On what logic and data would they make decisions?  On what grounds would they make choices for where or how to fundraise? Where or how to cut or expand programs? How can you answer questions of sustainability if you don’t know what you want and need the organization to look like in one, three, five years?  Funders certainly are being more strategic.  A recent survey by the Delaware Valley Grantmakers reported that funders are engaging in “significant rethinking about the areas they fund and the type of funding they provide.”  And 42 percent of their respondents said their grant budgets would not change in 2009, and the same percent said they’d make smaller grants in 2009 than 2008 and “focus on vulnerable populations.”  This suggests that minimally some level of strategic thinking drove these conclusions.

Do not think that The Nonprofit Center is immune to the current economic struggles, because we are a reflection of what is going on in the nonprofit community.  But even from my vantage point of pain, I still recognize the bad decisions that organizations are making in response to the economy. Drastic, reactive decisions in an attempt to cut costs without considering the long-term consequences to their missions do not serve organizations.  We have to remember that the current situation, while serious, is not permanent. If an organization abandons strategic planning as well as its strategic activities, that organization abandons its future for the sake of the short-term.

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.