Be honest: if you’ve spent any time working with a nonprofit with a budget short of 3 million, you’ve seen the tendency to put out today’s fires with the water you need for tomorrow. We all assume that we can magically make it work.
In a way it’s admirable. We’ve got missions to live up to. There are people who need help today. But we get too comfortable with financial triage: “If I pay these bills today, and we get that gift next week…”
Besides, there’s that adrenaline rush that comes with living for the moment. Enough caffeine, enough hours, maybe an intern or volunteer… we can do it, right?
It’s hard to persuade the powers that be – the ED, the board, maybe some senior staff members – that choices have to be made. It’s hard to explain that long-term success dictates doing less now, or that sustainability means limiting today’s tasks and focusing on next years’.
(That’s why so many of us have recruited a consultant to speak the hard truth with authority. You know it’s true! It seems to be a universal nonprofit trait – the person outside carries more authority than the insider. And even then, it’s not easy.)
Tactics are immediate. They’re tangible. They’re this month, today, NOW. They let you feel you’re doing.
Strategy is big picture. It’s harder to grasp. It’s a promise, a plan. It’s THEN. It feels like thinking, not doing.
Here’s the problem with selling strategy: it demands focus. Strategy demands clarity. And clarity – about your mission, about your activities – can be very threatening. “But I love that program! We can make it work!”
Clarity often means saying “no”. But we’re the “yes” people; we hate to say no.
Yet strategy is what gets your mission closer to filled. It points your efforts in the right direction. The choices you make strengthen your whole organization. The focus you gain ensures you really do work smarter.
So, what do you do if you’re sold on strategy in a tactics-driven world? I wish I had a conclusive answer for you. I’m learning myself.
I guess we need a strategy for strategy.