Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The 1st Deadly Sin of Nonprofit Strategy: “It’s Just Sitting on the Shelf”

This is the first blog in a series that will review my Seven Deadly Sins of Nonprofit Strategy.  And the first is, by far, the worst:  “It’s Just Sitting on the Shelf.”  This means, of course, that the nicely bound final strategic plan report is just sitting on a shelf and not being implemented in any way whatsoever.

The reason it is the worst is because it is so pervasive and represents a huge waste of money and time – from staff, volunteers, and stakeholders who are asked to participate.  This sin can be deadly, indeed, when board members or donors realize the hours they have wasted from making strategic plans that are never implemented.  And for the attorneys on your Board, those are billable hours.

Why does this happen?  I think the responsibility goes, in this order, to CEOs, Boards, and Consultants.

CEOs fall into the trap of knowing that they should do strategy, but they don’t know how.  So, they call a consultant to tell them what to do.  What they need to do first is to get at least minimally informed.  Read a book or at least a few articles.  Yes, I have free articles on my web site and I have a book – but there are lots of good books out there on strategy.  If you don’t want to read mine, I’d suggest John Bryson’sIf you go into the process informed, then you can work with a consultant to make sure you get a final product that will help you lead and manage the organization for the coming years.  You are the Chief Strategy Officer and you need to own the process.

Boards need to be engaged in the strategy process and hold the CEO accountable for actually implementing the plan.  Even the worst strategic plans I have seen can be turned into actionable ideas by adding specific, measurable goals – for example.

Consultants – my sisters and brothers – shame on us when we let CEOs rely on us too much.  We know we are leaving town after the ink dries on the last flip chart page.  We can’t leave these folks hanging out there like this.  We need to push CEOs up front on what kind of final product will really help them run the organization.  My approach includes the idea that I don’t write up the final product.  We finish the core elements of the strategy together, but the CEO and senior staff need to figure out how to write it up for their different audiences.  Of course I collaborate with them on how this is done, but it is their plan – not mine.  It needs to be written in their voice.

Nonprofits need to heal themselves from this deadly sin by getting informed, taking responsibility for the process, and holding one another accountable for actually implementing the strategy.  And don’t hire consultants to create a plan for you.  Hire them to collaborate with you to assist in creating your plan.

Stay tuned – six more deadly sins to come.

For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating look, Rob. I'm glad there are six more sins to come. I'd like you to consider the contribution of the consultants as the worst of the sins. Perhaps. You begin by saying that the CEOs know they should "do strategy."

    How do they know that? Probably the consultants. I cheer your determination to hang onto the process until it has benefitted someone other than the consultants, but I think a lot of your peers oversell "strategy" at the front end and oversell the necessity of finding "the right consultant" at the front end. And as you said, the only thing at the back end is leaving town.

    Great start. I'm ready for the next sin.