November 16, 2020

Toss Your Strategy if It Fails to Answer These 3 Questions

Toss Your Strategy if It Fails to Solve Your Key RoadblockA client called me to partner with their organization to create a strategy. The underlying driver for the process was underfunding—as is often the case.


As we worked together during the community listening phase of the strategy work, I frequently heard how previous funding efforts failed. While everyone desperately wanted to solve the challenge, they were more fond of obsessing about what didn’t work instead of brainstorming solutions.


Over time, by directing their conversations, the leaders understood that they had successfully discovered hundreds of ways that didn’t work–like Edison and the light bulb. Since they were determined to succeed, we built on these lessons. Using techniques I pioneered, we generated new approaches. These approaches, a solving mindset, and work changed their organization’s revenue trajectory and increased revenue threefold in less than five years.


If you leave your strategy selection session with a clear direction to solve your critical roadblock, you’ve succeeded. If not, you created a strategy that will collect dust bunnies and, worse, breed cynicism in your supporters about future strategy efforts. (Watch Nonprofit Strategy for Strategic Planning Haters to overcome pushback and cynics before you begin planning.)

Throw strategies that don’t solve your key challenge and give you hope that you can in the trash. Better yet, run your proposed strategy through the following three tests before you leave your strategy decision session.


1) Will we win with this strategy?

Your strategy outlines how you will achieve your goals, stand out from your competitors, and, yes, gain financial independence.

2) Is it succinct?

The strategy you create may have many nuances. Still, to make it work for you and your supporters, the essence of your strategy needs to be a word, phrase, or at most, a short sentence, make art more accessible to more citizens or help people build houses they will buy, or negotiate with lenders to reduce medical debts and pay time off.

3) Is it an earworm, that is, can we imagine using it to make decisions?

Boards, staff, and supporters use dynamic strategies daily to make decisions. The strategy needs to be brief, memorable, and actionable; that is an earworm that sticks with you as you work.

Watch: Not Solving the Nonprofit’s Key Roadblock for more about blowing up significant roadblocks.


If you want to know even more about nonprofit strategy, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to help you create a dynamic strategy to help your nonprofit thrive; schedule a time for a free discovery chat here.-Karen


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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