This episode is sponsored by my wonderful friends at Qgiv! I'll be holding a free webinar with them on July 21 - to go https://www.bit.ly/qgivandjulia and register for free! See you there!
If you’ve got a Strategic Planning document on a shelf somewhere that was written after an enormous number of meetings but never cracked again, you are in good company. Many nonprofits spend time, resources, and precious bandwidth creating a Strategic Plan - never to look at it again. Yikes.
In an ideal world, a Strategic Plan covers the why and how of your existence, and encompasses broad strategic goals and strategies that you want to accomplish in the near future. It defines what an organization should do within the next two to five years - and how to get there.
But before your nonprofit ventures into the nonprofit strategic planning process, there are several considerations you need to take into account.
Carol Hamilton is an organization effectiveness consultant who helps nonprofits become more strategic and innovative for greater mission impact. She facilitates strategic planning, helps organization’s prepare for executive transitions and provides training.
Carol trains frequently on leadership, strategy and innovation topics and is the host of the Mission: Impact podcast. She graduated from Swarthmore College and has her Masters in Organization Development from American University.
Here are some of the topics we discussed:
About Julia Campbell, the host of the Nonprofit Nation podcast:
Named as a top thought leader by Forbes and BizTech Magazine, Julia Campbell (she/hers) is an author, coach, and speaker on a mission to make the digital world a better place.
She wrote her book, Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits, as a roadmap for social change agents who want to build movements using engaging digital storytelling techniques. Her second book, How to Build and Mobilize a Social Media Community for Your Nonprofit, was published in 2020 as a call-to-arms for mission-driven organizations to use the power of social media to build movements. Julia’s online courses, webinars, and talks have helped hundreds of nonprofits make the shift to digital thinking and raise more money online.
Connect with Julia on other platforms:
Hi there, I want to invite you to a super special free live training that I am giving with my friends at Q give on Thursday, July 21. All about creating a future proof nonprofit social media strategy. You can register right now for free at www dot bit bi T dot L y forward slash que give and Giulia once again www.bit.li. Forward slash que give Qg I V. And Julia, you don't want to miss this free webinar. You can also go to the show notes of this episode and click the link to register. You're going to learn all about how to navigate upcoming digital changes, the four pillars of social media management, actionable ways to engage your community, and more. See you on July 21. Hello, and welcome to nonprofit Nation. I'm your host, Julia Campbell. And I'm going to sit down with nonprofit industry experts, fundraisers, marketers, and everyone in between to get real and discuss what it takes to build that movement that you've been dreaming of. I created the nonprofit nation podcast to share practical wisdom and strategies to help you confidently Find Your Voice. Definitively grow your audience and effectively build your movement. If you're a nonprofit newbie, or an experienced professional, who's looking to get more visibility, reach more people and create even more impact, then you're in the right place. Let's get started. All right. Hi, everyone. Thank you so much, again for tuning in to the nonprofit nation podcast. Thrilled as always to have you here with me. I'm your host, Julia Campbell. And today we are talking about strategic planning, you know that I love, all things planning, all things organizational planning. So we have with us today, my new friend, Carol Hamilton. Carol is an Organization Effectiveness consultant who helps nonprofits become more strategic and innovative for greater mission impact. She facilitates strategic planning, helps organizations prepare for executive transitions, and provides training. She also trains frequently on leadership strategy and innovation topics. As the host of the mission impact podcast. She graduated from Swarthmore College and has her master's in organization development from American University. So welcome, Carol,Carol Hamilton:
thank you for having me.Julia Campbell:
Yes. I'm so glad that we connected we connected on LinkedIn, I believe, I believe we did. Yeah. Yes. Well, from one podcast host to another Exactly. How did you get involved with the work that you're doing? How do you get involved with nonprofits and strategic planning? Oh, it'sCarol Hamilton:
a long and winding winding road. Yeah, my very first job out of college, I ended up working for a small company, small business that helped people get on talk shows. And, you know, that was back when it was regular radio, of course, they still exist. But podcasts weren't weren't a thing yet. And in doing that, we promoted all comers, you know, at any client that wanted our services, we help them get the word out. And so with that experience, I ended up moving back to Washington, DC, where I'm from, and, of course, it's kind of nonprofit Central. And I decided that I wanted to make a shift to if I was going to be helping promote causes, I wanted to promote ones that I believed in. So that's what really shifted me into the nonprofit sector. And then, as I worked in organizations, became increasingly interested in what made organizations work, what made groups and teams work, why did some organizations have really wonderful, lofty missions, but then there was a disconnect between that and how people actually treat each other inside the organization. All those things started to intrigue me. And so that's what really led me to organization development. And so strategic planning is A is a subset of organization development organization. That field really covers, you know, anything from individual one on one coaching, executive coaching, to you know, working with networks of organizations. So there's a huge breadth of things that you can Do within that field. But one of the things that I became familiar with through that is the StrengthsFinder assessment. And when I took that, and then actually it was when I was doing some work with a team that wanted to apply it, I noticed that maybe four out of five of my top strengths were all in the category of four categories that they bring it down to, and one of them is strategy. And four out of five of my top strengths were in that strategy column. So I was like, Okay, I think the universe is telling me something.Julia Campbell:
Did you do that? Enneagram as well?Carol Hamilton:
I haven't done that one. A lot of people talk about that. But I haven't done that one yet. I've done I probably done all the others. I love Myers on strengths finders, I'm intrigued. Yeah, Strengths Finder is is a really useful one. And I really love that obviously, in its name, it focuses on strengths. And that's that's the kind of approach that I like to take with organizations really building on their strengths, appreciating what's working within the organization, and how can you build on it. But that's basically how I got to doing planning with organizations.Julia Campbell:
So the thing was strategic planning, as I have worked in nonprofits, for about 20 years, I've was a development director and marketing director. I've been through this strategic planning process. And I think there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about what it is. Can you tell us a little bit about sort of your philosophy? And what are some of the elements that go into a successful process?Carol Hamilton:
Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, one of the things is that I say that it can be fun. And I think for most people, when they think of strategic planning, there's a little bit of groaning that goes along with it, like, Oh, my God, do we have to do that? It's like, you know, maybe similar to going to the dentist, but no, it doesn't have to be bad. It doesn't have to be arduous, you know, a long, complicated process. Yeah, my approach is really to making sure that you're taking the time to really map out the ecosystem that you live within, who are all the key stakeholders that are going to be important to your organization's future? And then how are you going to involve them, not everyone's going to be involved in the same way. But making sure that there's some involvement at the front end, whether that's you're interviewing either board members, or strategic planning, committee members or your consultant is talking to those external stakeholders, as well as internal stakeholders, surveys, those kinds of things. So you're gathering information, but then really helping the group go through a series of, you're kind of going wide? You're looking at all the possibilities, and then you have to have some processes for okay, how do we make some decisions? How do we bring this all together? And one of the things that I actually find, I think a lot of people are afraid when they're going into a process, and especially probably the the leaders, the board chair, the the executive director, they may feel like, my folks are just super unique. We have a whole wide range of opinions, perspectives. And what I actually find is that going through the process, people learn that there's more agreement than they might have been aware of.Julia Campbell:
I think that's fantastic. I think that's really true. I think that we tend to think the board is on this one level, maybe the staff is on a different level. The volunteers are on a different level, all the stakeholders are in different places. But we all have this common thread, we all care about the problem being solved. We care about the mission, we care about the solution that the nonprofit is providing, and hopefully we care about sort of the way to get there. So what are some of the most common mistakes that nonprofits make when they're entering this process? Or when they're going through this process?Carol Hamilton:
Yeah, yeah. So I think actually, one of them is that fear of including too many people, that is just going to be overwhelming. And so leadership groups will kind of try to keep it pretty contained, and maybe only include a few people from the board, maybe the leadership team, and I think you lose a lot. When you keep it that small. And then using that approach, you're then going to everybody later and saying, Okay, well, here's our plan, and, you know, help us, you know, give us your feedback. And then, you know, six months later, folks are wondering why folks aren't excited about it? Well, they aren't excited about it, because they weren't part of the conversation. They didn't see how you got to those three things are the most important. So being willing to open it up and bring people in. Again, their role is not all going to be the same. They may be brought in the beginning just to have a conversation and be in a focus group answer a survey, and then a group of and I would argue for most organization, it really needs to be both board and staff. No board is, you know, the one tasked with managing a Strad. issue for the organization. But it needed to have a conversation between board and staff to have that be realistic. So I think another mistake organizations can fall into is just, you know, getting so elaborate or kind of pie in the sky with their vision, that there's no grounding to reality of what the actual capacity of the organization is, like how far they are from, you know, okay, here's our vision for the future, but no recognition of where you are. So you need something kind of in the middle, right? You want to have those parts in the process where you are dreaming big, but then, you know, having some, some real realism as well, I think one of the biggest ones, and this is the one that, you know, leads to people always saying, oh, yeah, we went through that whole process. And now the plan is sitting on the shelf, no one's using it, is it there was no process for really operationalizing the plan. So what I like to do with clients is once the kind of bigger picture, higher level, three to five goals, no more than five. But don't let people have more than five,Julia Campbell:
even five sounds like a lot. But I know that nonprofits like to have a lot of goals,Carol Hamilton:
right? I usually tell them five is a lot Can we can we can we dial it back here. But then to take that kind of bigger picture, and then work with staff to do a one year implementation plan. And I also don't want groups to I think another pitfall that folks can fall into, is actually trying to nail everything down and making it too complicated. So, you know, why is it 100 Page plan, because you try to predict what you're going to be doing in three years, you know, if anything that, you know, we've been taught over the last few years is that change is constant, you can't predict the future. And so just saying, Okay, we're gonna get down into the nitty gritty, who's doing what by when, in that one year implementation plan. But then the second pieces of that is really making sure that you have a process for review, and updating, and to then make the next year's implementation plan.Julia Campbell:
That's something I really wanted to talk about. So there's kind of two questions here. One is, what is your top recommendation for operationalizing? A strategic plan making it actionable, because I think that is the hindrance for a lot of organizations that did maybe more traditional old school strategic planning, where they create a lot of ideas. But perhaps they were not, they didn't have the bandwidth or capacity to actually implement them. So what is the first step to really operationalize this document and make it a living document and not something that just sits either on a digital shelf or an actual shelf?Carol Hamilton:
Well, one of the funny ones is actually, in the process of working with groups at one stage, when they're defining what their goals are, you know, you've got groupings of folks have had a chance to say what they think the top three things are that the organization should do, and, and then we've grouped them is to not have those just be headers. So a lot of times that'll be communication, you know, fundraising, the one of the rules I have, is it, no, it has to have an action verb. It's not a goal, unless there's a verb attached to it. And something simple like that, then gets people thinking, Okay, what is it that we want to be doing? And then from that larger headline, you know, the increase whatever, or enhance blah, blah, blah, strengthen, whatever those things might be, then to have a couple action steps, but not only have the action steps, but then also define what does success look like? And that could be metrics, or it could be progress indicators. So it's not always going to be the same thing. But how are we going to know that we've made progress on this? How are we going to know that, that we're moving towards the target that we're imagining? So having those two pieces, I think, really helps them to get into then when you're getting to that next step of the implementation plan or the operationalizing? It? You already have a roadmap in terms of where are we going? What's the action we want to take? And then what does it look like when we get there?Julia Campbell:
Do you think nonprofits need to have been around for a little while before they do this process? Or is this something they can do as a startup?Carol Hamilton:
I think they can do it as a startup, I think that it's going to be more more of a guess. And the truth is, no one can predict the future. So that's not really what strategic planning is about. And I think that's another misconception is that it's about trying to predict the future. And it's really not. But I think when a when an organization is starting up if they can stay in that mindset of we're going to do some experiments to see what what works and what doesn't? And have some idea of again, what's our hypothesis? What might be a solution towards that? How are we going to evaluate whether this experiment has worked or not? To be in kind of that almost like scientific process at the beginning to be able to then iterate. And I think, for any organization, whatever maturity level, they're at making sure that you have that process for check in. And it's not just about how far have we gotten on our goals? It's also actually asking is this goal still relevant, because there may be things that you decided in your plan, were super important that two, three years later, you look at it like now it's not work, it's not working, or it's not relevant anymore. And I try to remind people that the plan is just a plan written by a group of people. And it can be changed, just like you talked about that living document. It's not a tablet from on high. Hopefully, you know, it's a Google Doc, right, and they can be edited. So it's not written in cement. And not to say that you want to be constant. I've been in organizations where they're strategic direction, dramatically changed every couple of years. And, and with that kind of situation, staff just end up with whiplash of where are we going, so you don't want to be that, you know, reactive to whatever the new, brilliant idea that the executive director came up with, but also not be so inflexible. So kind of finding that middle ground of enough flexibility to be able to respond to new things that come up. But then also, okay, let's stick to our knitting. And this is what we've committed to, and let's keep moving it forward.Julia Campbell:
I mean, there might not be a one size fits all answer to this, but how often do you recommend that nonprofits kind of revisit and evaluate and look at the plan? I would say,Carol Hamilton:
evaluating the current plan and kind of looking where how far have you gotten? What do you need to adjust in terms of, you know, your expected timeline, are there refinements to goals that you need to make that I would say at least on an annual basis, but then for the actual kind of full fledged strategic planning process, typically, groups I'm working with, they're either on a, they're doing it every three years, they have a three year plan, they have a five year plan, I would say in this environment, a five years really as far as you can go out. But I also like to work with groups to make sure that at the end of the process, they not only have a strategic plan, they also have what's known as a strategy screen. And this is not something that I designed, it's sloppy on a consulting, really put this idea forward. But it basically is setting up a process for making decisions about all those things that you couldn't anticipate in the plan. And inevitably, something's going to come up that even with as much due diligence and deliberate conversation and visioning, you're not going to anticipate so rather than either getting excited about that thing, or if it's a threat, very, you know, getting really caught up in it, depending on kind of who's explaining the thing? And are they an influential, influential voice in your organization? Are they a particularly persuasive person, if it's an exciting new opportunity, having a strategy screen actually gives you a deliberate way where you've pre decided these are the criteria that we're going to use to make a decision to be able to then run something through it, essentially, and kind of evaluate, you know, it's going to be a number of different criteria. Often the very first one is, how does this support our mission? Is this within our core competency? Will this enhance our reputation? Will we be able to fundraise for the as soon as you know, a lot of often common criteria that go across organizations, but then others that are unique to their situation? And just with each of those items kind of is this low or high? You know, is there a high possibility that we're going to be able to raise money for this? Or is it going to be really hard. And so just being able to have a more deliberate conversation about those new opportunities or challenges, and being prepared for that versus just at the whim of whoever has the best, shiny new object presentation skills is particularly persuasive, you know, all of those kinds of dynamics, it can be it can be a kind of a mitigating factor to that.Julia Campbell:
I love that. And I just listened to a podcast by Seth Godin. And he was talking about leadership and he said exactly what you said. He said that leadership is really setting up the framework and the lens through which to evaluate all of these decisions that we have to make every single day. All of these shiny new objects coming at us. There are 1000s of avenues and roads and little potholes, like places that we could go that could derail us. Or we could just go off chasing, you know, things like a squirrel, but to have that framework, so things are not arbitrary. But also things are a little more focused. And this is really what I teach my clients because they come to me with digital marketing, overwhelm, and problems. And they just need a tool, like you said, the strategy screen. I think that's brilliant, like, how can we evaluate all of these fantastic things coming at us all of these great ideas, all of these opportunities? And how can we determine which ones are going to get us to our goals? And which ones are maybe going to look great in the beginning, but also maybe get us off course. So I think that's one of probably the biggest benefits of the strategic planning process, would you agree?Carol Hamilton:
Well, like, like I said, I like to make sure that at the end of the process, they have both, they've identified those big goals. But then they also have this tool that enables them to evaluate those things that they couldn't anticipate. And so you talk about with Seth Godin talking about leadership and that framework, and too often, that's in somebody's head. So this gets this out on paper, it gets it explicit. It's a, you know, a group process where folks are agreeing to Okay, these are the criteria that we're going to use no matter what the situation is. So that it's being looked at whatever the opportunity or threat is, is being looked at from lots of different angles.Julia Campbell:
I agree. I think that that is one of the main benefits, like you said, you have it down on paper, it's not just this institutional knowledge that's in someone's head that might be lost when they leave or take another position or, you know, something happens. So one, a very common refrain I hear in terms of marketing, I'm sure you hear it all the time, is my organization has a lot of stakeholders, 10 million audiences, how do I effectively involve all of these audiences in the process? Without it being like an overwhelming number of voices and opinions?Carol Hamilton:
Yeah, so I think that's, you know, being intentional about mapping out who all those audiences are, first, what are the key groups? You know, obviously, staff and board probably volunteers or their, you know, clients, the constituents, partners, who are all those folks, government officials, or maybe different people in different organizations, ecosystems, depending on what their goals are? And then really thinking through how are we going to get input from them? And then how is that going to inform the planning process, and in most cases, getting input may be like I said, you know, it could be an interview, it could be inviting people to answer a survey, it could be asking them to participate in a focus group. And all of those people that you're gathering information from at the beginning, aren't necessarily going to be the folks who are there in the planning sessions. And that's going to be accommodation of board and staff when I do it, but being clear with all of those folks how the information is going to be used, and then being able to cycle back and say, Okay, this is what we heard from you. And this is informing our planning. So, you know, when I'm working with groups, and I'm often the one doing those conversations, holding those focus groups, but I always offer the strategic planning committee who's usually a group that isn't necessarily the one charged with doing all the planning, but they're really, they're my partner to help keep the process moving, and make some key decisions, like who are the stakeholders that we're going to tap into in terms of this process? And then synthesizing what have we heard from all those folks? What are the key themes that the planning group board and staff need to grapple with about the organization's future?Julia Campbell:
That's so important, because so many organizations do struggle with? How do we actively involve and engage all of the different stakeholders. And I know, for me, as an example, I'm on the school board here. And we're actually going to go through a strategic planning process. But even before the process, we have tried to involve all the different stakeholders, and see what's most important to them. But then at the end of the day, of course, we need to make a decision about where we're going and take everything into account. But help people understand that not every single idea can possibly be implemented. So yeah, I appreciate what you said about that. So another thing we have in common is we both love Simon Sinek start with y. That is how I literally start all my marketing engagements, all my consulting engagements, they have to watch that TED talk, and hopefully read the book. But you right, you know, despite the popularity of start with why leadership groups often have trouble staying at that level. And it's like Lee, that without a lot of discussion about why you should or should not do a program, the discussion jumps into how you would do the program. So I'm sure I know a lot of people listening to this, that really resonates with them, because they are development people, marketing people, people in the trenches. And oftentimes, they have so many things thrown at them. They just have, you know, program officers and EDS and boards are constantly throwing new ideas at them. So how do we get back to the why? And get out of the how?Carol Hamilton:
Yeah, I think, you know, that strategy screen is a way to kind of sift through I mean, I think when you're talking about programs, one of them is the danger of, you know, yeah, jumping into that how immediately, without really thinking about how are we the right group to be doing this? Is this actually going to move our mission forward, you know, connecting it back to the mission. And it's interesting, when I'm doing strategic planning, oftentimes groups, you know, they're like, Okay, we want to do mission, vision and values. And, and I actually put all of that at the end of the process. So we've done the interviews with folks. And we've, we've gone through the process, and then we look at your mission, your vision and your values. And for most organizations, they're looking at it to make sure that it's still up to date and relevant. But going back to the why of the organization, and actually, one of the things that I often ask people in interviews is, you know, what is the purpose of this organization? Why does it exist? Or what would be missing? If this organization no longer existed?Julia Campbell:
That is exactly what I say, what would be lost?Carol Hamilton:
What would be lost? And usually, it's like, well, that would get recreated, right, because the need is still there. But it's one of the things I want to kind of see at the beginning of how much clarity and or agreement is there about why what's the organization's purpose and, and why it exists? And if people really struggle with answering that question, it's a big red flag. I think, in our society, we are very rewarded for being action oriented, we value doers, even board members, you know, when we bring them on whether if they have a business background or whatnot, it's often that I've gotten XYZ done. And so it's just what people are more used to doing. So staying in that, why should we do this? Should we do this? Is is challenging. And so that's why that's one of the reasons that I really love that strategy screens tool, because I think it gives people they don't have to, it's like, trying to think of an exercise like, you know, an exercise analogy of like, if you've done enough reps, but it's like it gives you I don't know, what's something that helps you do the exercise that if you're struggling with, right, if you're beginning like, well, if you're doing yoga, like a personal trainer, like if you're doing Yeah, you're doing yoga, and you have motive, you have modifications, you can use a block for this, you can use a strap. So the strategy screen is just like that modification to help you stay in that why?Julia Campbell:
I love that. I talk about that a lot. But I also don't follow my own advice. Oh, it's so hard. It's so hard. And I listen to podcasts, and I read books, and I'm such a huge fan of always understanding, like you said, that's such a good framework. Why and then should you like those are two questions that need to be answered not how to do it not Can we do it not? How much is it going to cost? Not? How many people do we need, but let's just go back to grass roots. Let's go back to the why. And let's go back to should we or should we not do this. AndCarol Hamilton:
there's another wonderful exercise, it's kind of like embodying your inner three year old is called the Five why's are the seven why's where you ask, you know, so why should we do this? And then you have the first answer. Well, why is that important? And then why is that important? And that often really gets you to the root of something that if you'd only asked it once, you're really staying at the surface, and it kind of gets to what's the real key motivation behind whatever thing you're, you're exploring.Julia Campbell:
I love that. My son is seven and he still does that. Well, good for him. Right? Yeah. He's He is always like, why is this and why is that and why? And then always 10 more wise, but I think it's great. But it's that's such a brilliant idea. So I will Google that. I will put it in the show notes. So you're a fellow podcaster Tell me about your podcast, the mission impact podcast, how did it start? And what's the purpose? What's the why of the podcast?Carol Hamilton:
Yeah, so my I say that the tagline for the podcast is mission impact for nonprofit leaders who don't want to be a martyr to the cause. So I'm very much a believer in that we do more For our causes if we're not killing ourselves in the process like so, you know, a lot of consulting helps people take that step backs to slow down a little bit. So I'm talking to other professionals who work with nonprofits, often a lot of consultants who are helping nonprofit organizations with a variety of different issues, whether it's marketing and fundraising, or other strategic planning people, folks who are helping organizations, shift cultures to more healthy culture, building out capacity in terms of being more inclusive buildings, cultures of belonging, those are the kinds of things that I like to explore. And it started, I was at a conference for other nonprofit consultants. And there was a panel of folks who were getting close to retirement, and they were talking about kind of pondering and not having an answer, but kind of pondering, what's my legacy? And I thought, oh, wouldn't it be interesting to and they were talking about how there's this whole kind of group like, you know, parallel to the sector as a whole. There's a whole generation of people who are retiring. I mean, I feel like since I started in the nonprofit sector, people have been talking about when the baby boomers were going to retire. And I think maybe it's actually finally happening. But they were talking about that. And I thought, oh, wouldn't it be cool to talk to all these folks? And then I'm like, well, everyone's always talking about do informational interviews. Well, why not just record them and make them available to other people? So that's kind of where it started. I certainly I talked to people across all different generations in terms of career, you know, perspective. But that's kind of the kernel is where it started.Julia Campbell:
Wow, I sat I missed that conference. For consultants. Let's bring it back.Carol Hamilton:
The Alliance for Nonprofit Management. Great. It's a great organization. I'llJulia Campbell:
lift that up. I'm excited to listen to your podcast, everyone, check out mission impact. And that's just wherever you listen to your podcasts, wherever you're listening to this podcast. And where else can people find you, Carol? Where do you want people to connect with you online?Carol Hamilton:
Yeah, so check out the podcast, mission impact. Also, my practice is named Grace social sector consulting. So you can find me at Grace social sector.com. You can also find me on LinkedIn, love to connect with people. So yeah, any of those places would be a great place to connect.Julia Campbell:
Well, thank you so much. Thanks for being here. And yeah, stay in touch. And I'm so excited that all of you are listening. Thanks again, Carol, for being here.Carol Hamilton:
Thank you so much, and great questions, great conversation. I really appreciate it.Julia Campbell:
Well, hey there, I wanted to say thank you for tuning into my show, and for listening all the way to the end. If you really enjoyed today's conversation, make sure to subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast app, and you'll get new episodes downloaded as soon as they come out. I would love if you left me a rating or review because this tells other people that my podcast is worth listening to. And then me and my guests can reach even more earbuds and create even more impact. So that's pretty much it. I'll be back soon with a brand new episode. But until then, you can find me on Instagram at Julia Campbell seven, seven. Keep changing the world your nonprofit unicorn