Recently I was leading the final board meeting of a strategic planning process for one of my clients, and something interesting happened. A board member, who was very much stuck in a scarcity mindset, threatened to derail the very exciting, bigger direction we had charted.
The new strategic plan we were presenting to the board had the nonprofit growing in some really exciting and game-changing ways. The organization was ready internally for this growth, and the external market was ready for much more of what the organization had to offer.
Attached to this ambitious strategic plan was a growing financial model. Because in order to achieve their ambitious (but possible) growth, this nonprofit needed to also grow their annual budget by about 60% over 3 years. The staff had researched the funding climate, however, and were confident that their projected growth was achievable, especially when coupled with these exciting growth plans.
What happened in the board meeting, however, is what sometimes happens in a sector that is stuck in the lack of money mindset. One of the board members got scared of the bigger revenue numbers and asked for a Plan B, in case things didn’t work out. Essentially she wanted the staff to create a second, less ambitious strategic plan, with a more conservative set of goals and objectives, a more limited budget, less staff growth, and fewer new programs.
In voicing her desire for a Plan B, this board member was asking this nonprofit leadership team, who had charted a new direction free from the shackles of scarcity, to return to the Land of Lack. Her fears, if embraced, would cripple the organization before it even started out of the gate.
Let me be clear. I absolutely believe in creating a strategic plan that is flexible to changing internal and external circumstances. When I lead an organization to develop a strategic direction the final plan we create is not set in stone. Rather, we design a monitoring system so that as they start executing on their new plan they can make revisions as circumstances warrant.
So, if after a year of executing on their ambitious strategic growth plan, the organization above found that funders did not respond as anticipated, they could make adjustments to their plan as necessary.
An ambitious strategic plan with milestones and a monitoring system like this is very different than assuming before you even start that a strategic plan won’t work. When you create a Plan B strategic plan you are in essence saying that you don’t fully believe in the viability of the direction and model you just spent 6 months researching, analyzing and creating.
And you are essentially telling your funders, advocates, influencers, staff, board, volunteers, clients and others who are standing by ready to help you realize your vision that your nonprofit isn’t actually worthy of that vision.
So don’t do it. Don’t create a backup plan. Because when you create a backup plan, you are in that instant unnecessarily crippling yourself, your organization, and the great work you can do. And in fact research shows that creating a backup plan actually undermines your chance for success.
I would love to see nonprofits eschew the backup plan and more boldly and courageously chart a single, exciting strategic direction. Because, now more than ever, we need our great social change leaders to confidently and boldly take us where we need to go.
And by the way, we were able to convince that fearful board member that a Plan B didn’t make sense, and this organization is now happily implementing their ambitious growth plan.
Photo Credit: Kyle Johnson