pigletAs nonprofit leaders know all too well, the practices around setting and refining organizational strategy are changing profoundly. Leaders are more concerned than ever to have evidence-based mandates, to share stories of impact amidst fierce competition for stakeholder attention, and to refine business models for greater sustainability in an unpredictable economy.

Earlier this week at CompassPoint’s annual Nonprofit Day (#11npd), I had the privilege of speaking on a panel with Jeanne Bell, CEO of CompassPoint and Jara Dean-Coffey, Principal at jdcPartnerships. Our session, “Rethinking Strategy,” examined the intersection of impact, brand, and business model.

Recognizing that leaders need real-time tools to address strategy in a dynamic environment, we offered three questions to get to the heart of the matter:

  1. Is it working and why?
  2. Who’s buying?
  3. Who knows and who cares?

These questions may sound like the domain of strategic planning, but as Bell pointed out, nonprofit leaders no longer have the luxury of time in which to make critical decisions. In our rapidly-evolving context, Bell said:

“A deferred decision is costly and not necessarily more informed. Better to invest in the pivot point than running out your resources waiting for the change to happen to you.”

Nonprofit leaders are called on to make vital decisions in real time. Clarity on these three questions can take the place of traditional strategic planning processes, freeing you and your organization be more nimble and more adaptive to the shifting landscape in which you operate.

Is it working and why?

As nonprofit leaders, we’re in the business of changing the world, and it is this quest for impact that drives not only the day-to-day work of our organizations, but also the marketplace economics of the nonprofit sector. Dean-Coffey explained it this way:

“Nonprofit leaders want to be able demonstrate the value of their efforts on a continuous basis. That means engaging in evaluative practice — not in evaluation as a one-time event, but as an ongoing practice that reaches beyond performance measurement and monitoring in the relentless pursuit of quality and value to improve organizational performance.”

Where the quest for resources is increasingly competitive, the ability to articulate impact is often a key differentiator in the marketplace.

Who’s buying?

Simply put, a nonprofit cannot be sustained if no one is willing to pay for the services it provides or the programs it offers. Clarity about the value the buyer derives from the nonprofit is critical as leaders seek revenue streams to support their program offerings. As Bell said:

“For better or worse, it’s all earned income now. We’ve trained donors to look for return on investment in the form of mission impact.”

In no small part, the trend toward the articulation of impact stems from the fact that impact attracts resources. People don’t give money to problems — they give to solutions. Foundations often want to invest in scaling what works. Understanding the motivations of the buyer is a competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace of ideas.

Who knows and who cares?

The success of your cause hinges on how you engage your staff, board, volunteers, donors, constituents, community members, and decision makers. Without their interest and active support, you can’t achieve results.

In the new communications landscape, nonprofit leaders have a strategic imperative to communicate — to share information and build emotional ties to your cause among your stakeholders and community members. In turn, these people can become passionate champions for the cause. Smart, sharp communications is the key to building that army of passionate champions who can buy in to programs and help increase an organization’s impact.

So how is your organization operating at the intersection of impact, business model, and brand? How are you clarifying and communicating impact in order to sustain it?
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Holly Minch is LightBox Collaborative’s Chief Engineer. She is a strong proponent for strategically getting to the heart of the matter.