There's no point in chasing the newest flavour-of-the-month
strategy if you don't implement well. That's the plain-spoken advice of
fundraising strategy specialist
In his work with nonprofits all over North America, he's
discovered eight keys that are essential to successful execution: urgency, vision, priorities, plans,
actions, measures, accountability and recognition. All of them can be addressed,
he says, provided you have the right people in the right roles.
The key to creating a sense of urgency, Swindoll explains,
is setting priorities and then helping people to understand the negative
consequences of not meeting them.
Urgency is not the same thing as crisis. Urgency calls for
proactive, not reactive steps. Attention is focused on the top priority in time
to create the maximum number of options, and goals are reached on time.
In a crisis, we react to something that's already gone
wrong. Our attention is jerked from one blow-up to another and away from
organizational priorities. By the time you hear yourself saying, "We have no
choice but to do such-and-such," you have shifted from an urgent situation
(where you still had a choice of options) to a crisis.
We talk about vision, we laud it, yet we can't quite
describe it when we're forced to do a vision statement. But when we get it
right, he says, it challenges people to tackle tough initiatives. It helps them
understand why their job requires them to do what they do. It connects a team
to the organization's primary focus.
(For a great clarification of the difference between vision
and mission, read Getting vision and mission straight
by Fraser Green
Most nonprofits face an uneven balance, with more great
opportunities than resources. Choosing to do some good things and not other
good things is hard. But it's essential.
are you willing to release so that other, more important work can be realized?"
Swindoll asks. For both an organization and an individual, it means asking what
you can do that no-one else can do, what you can do that others can expand, and
how you balance short-term needs with long-term opportunities. Identify
the strategic initiatives and operational infrastructure that will help you
realize your vision. Let everything else go, no matter how great or enticing it
Swindoll offers one suggestion for charting an action plan.
Take one strategic initiative. List its primary objectives, the resources
required, the owner of each objective ("where the buck stops"), milestones and
due dates, and the tangible outcomes. You can use any planning scheme you like,
he says, as long as it addresses the top reason action plans fail: management
inability to identify specific steps that are needed to accomplish strategic
His long view is encouraging. "In my experience," he notes, "once an action
plan has been developed with realistic due dates and owners, objectives become much
more tangible and have a much stronger chance of being completed."
No matter how much time you spend on planning, taking action
will be even more time-consuming. And lack of time, Swindoll observes, is the
greatest challenge to acting.
To act on a strategic plan, everyone needs permission and
discipline to eliminate unimportant tasks, meetings and standing commitments
from their schedules. Start saying no to some requests and encouraging your
team to do the same. Find ways to make your meetings more efficient and less
frequent. Turn your calendar into a reflection of your priorities.
If crises derail your carefully planned schedule, note where
they come from. Generally, crises reflect a habit already discussed - a previous
failure to identify an urgent situation.
Choose key performance indicators that will reflect your
progress and alert you early if something goes off track. Make sure they are
fairly easy to track; there's no point asking for information that's too hard
to assemble. For every indicator, ask yourself how quickly it will tell you if the
initiative is not producing what you expected it would.
greatest failure of nonprofit organizations is the failure to hold people accountable
for their performance," Swindoll believes. Measures give you feedback. When the
measures flag a lack of progress or a missed deadline, you need to act. Address
the failure with the person who owns the objective. Clearer expectations, or better
action planning, or more support from leadership may be required.
though, the failure lies in the inability of that individual to perform at the
As painful as it will be, that's better to address sooner than
later. Nonperforming staff, he reminds us, cost the organization money.
The flip side of accountability, recognition comes into play
when progress is made and deadlines are met. Public recognition celebrates performance,
good project management, accountability and follow-through. It signals the kind
of behaviour you want and the value you place on everyone's contribution. It
helps to build an organizational culture of achievement. So practice what
Swindoll calls "serial recognition."
The complete white
paper is available from www.pursuantgroup.com.