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The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution: Real-Time Strategic Planning in a Rapid-Response World

The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution: Real-Time Strategic Planning in a Rapid-Response World, by David La Piana

A Book Review by Gail Schaper-Gordon, Ph.D.,
Win-Win Founder & Senior Consultant

Strategic planning efforts for all-too-many organizations have been little more than expensive team building exercises that have produced great-looking reports that end up just collecting dust on someone’s shelf.

To combat such common failures of traditional strategic planning, Win-Win started nine years ago designing interactive strategic planning retreats (called “Advances”) and implementation programs that engaged representative groups of people throughout an organization.

Around the same time, accomplished consultant David La Piana began a four-year research investigation into the limitations of traditional strategic planning. With special attention to the tremendous need expressed by nonprofit leaders and funders, La Piana’s project evolved into an effort to find alternatives that were more useful than the traditional methods. This project produced a process, not so different from that used by Win-Win, and a book that provides the structure and tools for nonprofit organizations to do most of the work themselves, with minimal help from outside consultants.

La Piana’s book is organized into three parts:

  • Part One — nine chapters that make the case for a strategy revolution and teach the reader how to work the revolution into their own organization.
  • Part Two — ten essential tools that they recommend for conducting a one-day strategy-formation session, to kick off a “Real-Time Strategic Planning Process.”
  • Part Three — a CD with a facilitators guide for conducting the one-day kick-off session, the ten essential tools from Part Two, plus supplemental tools to help in strategy development and implementation, including blank worksheets and handouts.

This book was recommended to me by one of my Vistage CEO Group members who is the CEO of a substantial nonprofit organization. This organization has a strong and active group of board members who used this book with minimal outside consultation to conduct their own successful Real Time Strategic Planning Process.

The most valuable product of the process is a tool for making future decisions as they are needed: a “Strategy Screen,” or “Opportunity Matrix.” This tool represents the organization’s identity in a set of selection criteria for choosing future strategies when complex issues emerge. This tool helps an organization keep focused on its Magnetic North when things like real opportunities, “great ideas,” or funding crises confront the board.

La Piana’s book also clearly delineates three different levels of an organization for which decisions and strategies are made, but which are often confused or not even recognized, by either the board or the volunteers: the Organizational, Programmatic, and Operational levels. The book represents these three components by a “Strategy Pyramid,” with the organizational strategies at the top and the operational strategies on the wider, bottom base. This pyramid is ideally built from the top down — by first determining the mission, vision, and desired market position, which inform the organizational strategies and the choice of programmatic approaches. These then determine the operational requirements.

If your nonprofit recently had a great team building strategic planning retreat that created or validated your vision, mission, and values, this book could be just the thing to help you convert your work into an actionable and responsive process for effective and rapid decision-making.

Just one more way to “Do More With Less.”

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ABOUT GAIL SCHAPER-GORDON, Ph.D.

Gail has been helping leaders grow their businesses and achieve their goals for more than two decades, one business at a time.

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