Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The 7th Deadly Sin of Nonprofit Strategy: “Not Ambitious Enough”

A strategy and its associated goals and plans should be focused on a vision that is big, bold, and inspiring. 

Many strategies are based simply on an analytical forecast of the way things are currently headed.  How dull.  It was Goethe who said:

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”

In his presidential run, Robert Kennedy used to quote George Bernard Shaw at the end of his speeches:

“Some men see things as they are and say ‘why,’ I dream of things that never were and say ‘why not.’”

The way to tap into dreams is through Vision.  One of the very important steps in the strategy process I use is for a nonprofit to focus on its commitment to fulfilling its unmet mission needs (aka Mission Gap) and then dream about what the organization would look like in an ideal state – so that it could close its Mission Gap as effectively as possible.

We need to let people dream these big, bold visions.  They want to be inspired by something.  Ask your stakeholders about their dreams.  Ask them what your organization would look like if they could have it any way they wanted it – so they could make even more of a difference for those they serve.

Ask, listen, share your own dreams – and create a vision with others that inspires you all.

I am often told that this approach to dreaming an ideal is a totally unreasonable way to go about creating a strategy.  When I am told that, I enthusiastically agree!  And then I share another quote by George Bernard Shaw:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in attempting to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

We need big, “unreasonable” visions because – face it – we are trying to solve big, challenging problems.  And incremental improvement is just not satisfactory.  Not for me, at least.  Whether your passion is providing affordable housing, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, or something else – we need organizations to build capacity to address these needs.

Doing this is important because vision – based on the opportunity to close a Mission Gap effectively – drives strategy.  And it ignites the “out of the box” thinking that everyone talks about.

Resist the temptation to create a vision you are sure you can achieve.  And remember the words of Nelson Mandela:

“Your playing small does not serve the world.”

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.

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