• Pat Libby

Mapping your nonprofit's way to a more interconnected future

I'm a sucker for strategy work – even though it’s tricky and unpredictable, and often threatens to make my curly hair stand on end – because it ultimately results in huge ah hah’s for my clients, which is very satisfying.

If you read one of my recent blog posts, you know I define strategy as something that evolves through a thorough analysis of the environment and the circumstances in which your organization operates.

There are lots of different types of tools that you can use to do strategy work – the trick is to reach into your toolbox to use the right tool or tools when you need them.

One of the simplest tools is mapping (although, you can also make it crazily complex so try to avoid going down that rabbit hole).

Doing that kind of strategic work isn’t just for big-boy nonprofits who can afford consultants – it’s easy for any nonprofit to do!

Begin this way:

1. Get your Board members (and staff if you have them) together in a room with a big white board or big blank sheets of poster paper.

2. Draw a circle in the middle of the empty chart, and put your nonprofit’s name in it. Within that circle, also list the types of programs you operate (or plan to operate if you’re in the formative stage).

3. Divide the chart into four quadrants that help you categorize current and potential allies. For example, these categories might be public sector; private sector; nonprofits; other (the other might include donors/foundations/individuals).

4. List organizations within bubbles in those quadrants. Draw lines from those circles to the programs/initiatives within your circle as follows:

  • Draw bold lines for those organizations with which you have strong relationships; dashed lines for those with which you have OK relationships; and dotted lines for organizations/individuals with whom you could potentially develop relationships.

  • If you’re thinking about forming a new nonprofit, this might be a list of organizations whose mission is similar to yours/share your “why,” and, therefore, might be potential partners. They could be other nonprofits, public agencies, or for-profits.

While you’re scribbling, ask yourselves:

  • How do these organizations impact our work (e.g., through funding or policy)?

  • How is our approach similar to or different from these other organizations?

  • Who is a potential partner or ally in our work: What opportunities might we have for working together? How would a partnership benefit that organization? How would it benefit us?

This easy mapping exercise is bound to result in some new insights for your organization.

You might leave the room thinking things like:

“Wow, we shouldn’t be dedicating resources to that particular program because several others are already doing it in our community and they’re doing a good job.”

Or, conversely,

“There’s a big gap in the service delivery system that we are perfectly poised to fill!”

Or

“Let’s take our really cool program and see if we can join forces with a bigger nonprofit so that we can concentrate on what we like to do and avoid all of the administrivia we hate.”

Or

“Yowza, there are some really amazing opportunities to introduce new partners to our work and maximize our impact.”

Or…

The folks at Stanford’s Design School created a graphic that does a great job at illustrating an overall strategy process and they also offer online and in-person courses for those of you who are eager to get your planning nerd on.

Whatever your situation, start the new year right by doing a little strategy work.

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Pat Libby is a consultant that helps nonprofits with organizational strategy, board restructuring, and executive searches. Pat has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations since 1978.

Get in touch if you have any questions!


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