group developing a planThe Shocking Truth

About Too Many Strategic Plans

Too many nonprofit leaders undertake their strategic planning process in response to an authority, perhaps a donor, insisting on it. To these leaders, developing and having a strategy is an entry ticket. It’s required paperwork to retrieve, as requested. For these leaders, the strategy development process becomes a way to check another box on a lengthy to-do list. This mindset is too bad. Why? Because an effective 10x strategy is one of the key differentiators between so-so nonprofits from stars. It’s undoubtedly the most labor-saving one.

After working with hundreds of nonprofits on strategy, I’ve learned what works and doesn’t. An effective strategy is like owning top-of-the-line GPS equipment. It lays out a plan to get you from here to your vision the quickest way possible.

In short, your strategy is a preplanned route that leads you around roadblocks and traffic to your goals. Does your strategy provide you with these benefits? Take the assessment below to find out.

Check the boxes where your current strategy passes muster. That is, it creates the benefit listed when you get the end total, score, and one point for each checkmark.

Karen’s Effective Strategic Plan Assessment

__ 1. Excited

Does the strategy excite you and your leadership? You don’t hear the word “excitement” very often in connection with strategy, but after a good strategy session, participants are tired (they thought hard), excited, and ready to get to work.

__ 2. Unique

Does your strategy build on your organization’s skills and gifts? Is it you? Can anyone else fulfill this strategy, such as a competitor and you? A strategy never copies. It creates. It advances you from your distinct perspective.

__ 3. Respected

Is your strategy based on a thoughtful analysis of possibilities? Did you create it after exploring alternatives? While you cannot choose all the worthy options, you pick your strategy from a selection of great options. And, even though everyone may not have been thrilled with the selection, your board members embraced the logic behind the choice. Does your strategy have the respect of those who prefer other options and your supporters?

__ 4. Key Roadblock

Does your strategy solve your most critical roadblock? What keeps you from moving faster toward your nonprofit vision? Check this box if your strategy blows up, digs under or around this roadblock.

__ 5. Clarity

Quality strategies offer direction, not dust collection. Does the essence of your strategy, i.e., its earworm, whisper directives to you that ease decision-making? Does it point to the best donors to contact? Does it nudge you toward what to do next? Do you ask which option is most consistent with the strategy?

__ 6. Grounded

At one point, if you asked Google Maps for walking directions to London from North America, you got an untenable itinerary that included a kayak ride across the Atlantic. This kind of strategy is a fantasy. Many faulty strategic plans contain similar advice, such as “Raise the money.” Does your strategy trace a logical, realistic path to your goal?

__ 7. Reflects You

Every night, you leave your office and arrive home. No one else takes the same journey. No one else starts exactly from where you begin to reach your destination. Does your strategy reflect your organization’s current location and its essence?

__ 8. Endpoint  

Worthwhile strategies focus on endpoints but expect detours and the finding of new shortcuts. Does your strategy continue to provide work even when specific details change?


7 and 8 Total: Congratulations, your strategy is better than a top-of-the-line GPS! Contact me to renew and maximize its use.

5 or 6 Total: Your strategy is wobbly; you can make it more helpful.

4 or less Total: Ouch. If anyone asks if you have a strategy, say yes and hope they don’t ask for a copy. Better yet, please share it and the news that you’re about to upgrade it.

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