August 15, 2023

Strategy to the Rescue: Here’s Hope and 5 Terrific Examples

If everything’s going well in your nonprofit, working to solve your most significant problem might not matter. But if you’re challenged, it matters a lot.


  • You’re discouraged by the same forever challenge your organization faces.
  • You spend an epic amount of energy working on it.
  • You receive contradictory advice and, at times, piloted remedies that go against your instincts.
  • And, you privately go ballistic when others recite quick fixes that don’t work
  • You wonder if you should get over it, accept that it’s a DNA-level thing and resign yourself to slow and arduous progress.

If this is you, this post invites you to pause your frustration and ponder whether a strategic answer might be possible.

Strategic answers are concepts (often expressed as strategies in a nutshell or earworms) that reflect unique answers. What’s fascinating (and lovely) about strategic answers is that they often turn disadvantages into competitive benefits.

To show, not tell, what I mean, this post shares five strategic answer examples. Each includes the challenge, the strategic answer, why it works, and the results. They are all pithy, succinct, and powerful.

I hope they’ll help you imagine solutions to your challenge and, more importantly, know that solutions are possible—that is, most nonprofit execs don’t need to resign themselves to only slow and arduous progress.        

🔵 1. The way we grow revenue isn’t enough.

The Challenge: The marine research funding pool is too small and too competitive for us to meet our mission.

The Strategic Answer: We will boost funds from traditional research sources with local donors who invest in research. We’ll craft community programs around our research to reach individuals. 

Why this Works: The community programs provide new revenue and opportunities to build relationships.

Results: Mote Marine Laboratory grew from a small research lab into a major institution using this strategic answer for thirty years. You can read more in this strategic planning basics guide.

🔵 2. We face purchasing power erosion.

The Challenge: A significant part of our budget comes from the government. Government funding lags behind inflation, so our purchasing power is eroding.  

The Strategic Answer: We will develop personal relationships with all our elected officials, state, federal, and local, to ensure our organization’s needs remain on their radar.

Why this Works: You build relationships with funders who would otherwise “forget you” in the press of other demands.

Results: When this research occurred, per capita funding for Opportunity Village’s mission was higher than in 48 other states. Read more: How to Secure Government Funding for Your Nonprofit.

🔵 3. We need lots of labor to deliver our mission.

The Challenge: We get tons of donations that must be sorted and right-sized to serve the community.

The Strategic Answer: Reduce labor costs by creating extraordinary volunteer experiences akin to high-quality vacation days at a theme park.

Why this Works: You operate in a big city, where everyone from youth groups to corporate conferences seeks places to learn together and give back. By making volunteering fun and convenient, you become a volunteer magnet. 

Results: At the time of the interview, over 23,500 individuals volunteered at the Houston Food Bank. They contributed 200,000 hours in one year, which equates to the hours of 100 full-time employees. Read more about it: Reduce Your Expenses By Becoming a Volunteer Magnet.

🔵 4. A facility that is part of our mission is not paying its way. 

The Challenge: We were gifted a 12,000-foot 1929 mansion for our mission. Maintaining it is expensive, and it needs to pay its way.

The Strategic Answer: Move the purchase of mansion tickets from the Visitors Center to the Garden’s entrance booth.  

Why this works: Many visitors drive an hour from the state’s most prominent and more expensive attraction. When you offer a gate ticket to the gardens and the mansion, visitors learn that the estate is an integral part of the experience.

Results: Bok Tower Gardens invested less than $2,000 and tripled earned income on the mansion in less than three years. Read more about it: 7 Nonprofit Income Streams.

🔵 5. We need to serve millions with a small staff and budget.

The Challenge: How can we serve more of the 28 million Floridians with twelve staff and a budget of less than five million? 

The Strategic Answer: Develop activities that amplify Florida Humanities programming and other high-quality humanities opportunities in the state.

Why this Works: You boost what you already do well and support and uplift other quality humanities providers who serve Floridians. That is, you empower others to do the mission. 

Results: Check this new video collection to see some early results of this 2022 strategic answer, check this new video collection.

Doing It Right

Q: Can you “copy and paste” these strategic answers and solve your biggest challenge?

A: Probably not. Instead, let bubble up possibilities and remind you that most nonprofits can find one or more(!) strategic answers to forever challenges.

Discovering a strategic answer will improve your life. It will make you more attractive to donors and funders. Even more encouraging,  some donors and funders will make significant, unrestricted, and unexpected gifts, that is, windfalls. Strategic answers ramp up multiple benefits. 

How it Works

Most nonprofits develop strategic answers during nonprofit strategic planning work. (Follow this link to learn what sets nonprofit strategy work apart from others.)

If you’re stuck, however, it may be time to try a different approach. Karen is available for a mini-consult and more. Click here to email or here to set a time to chat. 

You can keep up with me, subscribe to Karen’s CEO Solutions

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.


If you appreciate these Added Value posts, please consider subscribing.

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Karen Eber Davis Consulting. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Latest Posts