October 8, 2022

The “Secret Reason” that CEOs Embark on Strategic Planning

Many nonprofit CEOs contact me to create a nonprofit strategic plan or update one, and almost always, the engagement discussion includes the other CEO’s goal to upgrade their board’s engagement. These leaders are often frustrated by board issues. Concerns often include poor follow-thru, superficial conversations, conflicts, and confusion about board and staff roles.

The “Big” Reveal 

Depending on the relationship between the board and CEO, the board problems you face, and specific behaviors you seek, you upgrade your board’s engagement in your nonprofit strategic planning for your process. The board work during the engagement can be overt or “secret.”
Any concealment is not to trick the board.
Instead, many CEOs know that their members need to discover (that is, it’s their idea to create a plan to be a better board so the nonprofit strategy (or updated plan) reaches everyone’s high aspirations.

Why Is Effective Strategic Planning Critical to Nonprofit Executives Besides Creating a Winning Strategy for Your Nonprofit?

Because of how, together, we can guide your board to become a better partner to you and your nonprofit during the nonprofit strategic planning process. Specifically:
  •  Strategy work funnels the board’s efforts to work on strategic issues.
  •  Strategy exploration and execution invite boards to grasp their best roles.
  • You will identify many exciting activities. As you plan, the conversation naturally turns to “who will do what.”
  • The strategy planning process includes many interactions that strengthen relationships between board members, members, and staff.
  • The nonprofit strategic planning consultant facilitator can drip best practices about board engagement during the engagement.
  • Finally, well-constructed nonprofit strategic plans include goals, actions, and timelines for the board that the board creates.

Example: Micromanaging Prevention

Do you wonder what educating the nonprofit board looks like during strategy work. Here’s an example.
In a session with the Hillsborough Arts Council’s Board, we plastered the walls with charts and post-it notes about strategic options.
Before we examined and selected the best option, I stopped the session and gave the board a vaccination to prevent micromanaging.
No, they didn’t roll up their sleeves to get swabbed and stuck with a needle.
Instead, I  got my props and displayed three dinner napkins: the first paper, the second cotton flannel, and the final antique linen.
“Which do you prefer?” I asked.
Eyes stared. Brows raised. Mouths open. I had their full attention.
We’d been working  90-minutes and making significant progress—and now, this odd question from the consultant facilitator.
“It doesn’t matter, ” I told them. The board laughed. The napkins were an example of the tendency of nonprofit boards to micromanage.
In the future, whenever their board discussions wandered into committee or staff work, I encouraged them to ask, “Are we talking napkin-type here?” (For more on eliminating board micromanaging, see: How to Stop Your Board from Micromanaging.) The “Napkin Quiz” reminded the board to focus on strategic issues, not tactics.

What Else Happens During Strategy Planning?

Many big takeaways emerge from the nonprofit strategic planning process when done well. Guiding the board to recognize when they are micromanaging is possible, as in the overall focus on moving toward governance. Other options, of course, exist to engage your board relationship and move them toward maximizing their impact during the strategy process.
Long ago, when I pioneered my strategic planning for nonprofits, we knew that the world’s most effective strategy wouldn’t launch the nonprofit to the next level unless the board, staff, and other supporters aligned with it. And that board and staff will need to grow into their new roles and the staff.
Your nonprofit strategy development process offers you and your nonprofit a super opportunity to identify a dynamic path forward for your organization’s future, upgrade your relationships with your board members, and equip them to partner with you in that future. You can help your board be better leaders and get ahead of the game by leading robust strategic planning processes at your nonprofit.
That is the “secret reason” CEOs eagerly embark on nonprofit strategic planning, and it can remain our secret.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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