Strategic thinking crucial in these uncertain times

Strategic thinking is even more crucial in these uncertain times. There are some immediate questions for an organization’s board and executive staff to be asking now, the most important of which in my view is “So What?” If you can’t answer “so what?”, leaders need to go back to the drawing board.

Top questions to be asking now:

  • If our organization stopped existing what would be the impact on our community? Use that as the starting point for engagement. (Tim Sarrantino, Neon One)
  • What are our essential services and/or programs on which we need to focus now?
  • What commitments do we have and how are we going to survive?
  • What else do you need to address to survive and succeed?
  • For each area, ask what is at stake if we do or do not do this?
  • Most importantly, answer the question “So What?”

Other questions to consider in no particular order:

  • Has your board been involved in the strategic planning for the organization? If so, it will be easier to engage them in thinking strategically as they understand the shared vision and focus. If not, you need to approach their engagement differently, inviting their participation in next steps.
  • Are the changes we’re considering in line with our mission – right now, one should be using a simple strategy screen to determine if what’s being proposed aligns with the mission (see example below)
  • What would be the worst-case scenario for your organization?
  • What would be the best-case scenario for your organization?
  • What are the scenarios in between?
  • What opportunities have arisen that might not have otherwise presented themselves?
  • How can we use what we have (assets) to do things differently?
  • How can we maximize resources? See 3-part blog series on our website by Sean Hale.
  • What will we do if our agency has to stay in quarantine for an extended period of time? (Amy Temperley)
  • What will we do if we have to cycle in and out of quarantine over the next year to 18 months? (Amy Temperley)
  • How will we ramp back up if/when quarantine ends? What will we do differently in our programs or the way we run our organization? (Amy Temperley)
  • What emergency response policies and procedures can we put in place for the next time something like this happens? (Amy Temperley)

Some actions to take now

  1. Think strategically, in other words put today’s decisions in the longer-term context, and, above all, get everyone focused on your mission.
  2. Make decisions based on how they affect the mission. As you move forward, ask are the proposed actions essential and do they fit within our overall strategy. As you make decisions, use a simple strategy screen to determine if what is being suggested fits.
  3. Stay connected with your key constituents – those you serve, your staff, your board, your volunteers, your partners and donors, big and small.
  4. Develop a short-term action plan while thinking longer-term impact, including clearly identifying the challenges your organization is facing.
  5. Reconfirm roles and responsibilities – allocation of roles such as operations vs. longer term planning
  6. Engage your Board in the process – get them involved. However, focus on using them strategically rather than tactically. They are on your Board because they care about your organization. However, they may have challenges of their own right now so focus on using their expertise and experience to brainstorm the strategic way forward and to reach out to their networks for funding and partnerships.
  7. Have the Board and Staff do a simple SWOT exercise – you could do it with a short survey asking the appropriate questions, then develop a draft SWOT for further discussion.
  8. Consider opportunities such as combining with another nonprofit serving a similar mission or demographic; establishing new or informal partnerships; explore new potential donors.
  9. Scenario planning – this is one of the most important actions to take now. Think about what the future might look like; you don’t know what will happen but at least if you brainstorm the possibilities it will make it easier to move forward and making decisions on budget and actions less difficult.
    • Consider creating an ad-hoc task force (working group) made up of Board and Staff, chaired by a Board member. Their role would be to research and develop draft strategic scenarios for consideration by the Board, ensuring an efficient and timely response to the current situation.
    • Agree on purpose and desired out comes.
    • Confirm roles and responsibilities.
    • Decide on the process you’re going to use.
    • Develop a list of questions that need to be answered – see page 1
    • Develop actions to be taken by whom and by when
    • Execute
  10. Develop a communications plan – a clear and active communication outreach is important for both fundraising and for engaging board members, staff, partner organizations and others. Focus on the what, how and WHY – your stakeholders need to know what’s happening and will be willing to provide feedback if you provide suggested solutions. The key is “remaining relevant to your mission while not appearing to be tone deaf to the situation.” – Jennifer Stevens, CEO of JHL PR & Comms on a OneVoice webinar recently.

The most important aspects are:

  • Understand who needs to be hearing from you
  • Decide on the key messaging- what is essential to telling your story? How are you continuing to pursue your mission, how can people support you and why does it matter if you don’t continue your services? Why should your stakeholders care? Don’t assume that because you’re not front line they won’t care or want to help.
  • Finally, decide how you’re going to communicate; which media – phone calls, social media, physical mail or a combination.

If you have any questions or would like assistance from JBL Strategies in working through these steps, contact me at or text me at 512-529-7685

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