Strategic Planning – It’s a New World

We often get calls from nonprofits asking them if we can help them with a strategic plan. The typical calls starts with something like this: “Our last strategic plan is about to run out and we need to update it. Can you help us? Three years ago when we did this we held a board retreat and a special staff meeting and came up with our goals and objectives. We think that process will work again.” 

As we talk further about current realities, more complexity emerges:

  • Our founding executive director plans to retire in 2 years.
  • Our decades-old service organization is being pushed by some of our funders and board members to consider the long-time structural barriers that have kept our clients in poverty.
  • We see value in being involved in partnerships yet our current funding sources don't allow us to dedicate time to multiple meetings with no clear outcomes.
  • Our revenues are shrinking because the organizations that once paid membership dues to demonstrate support for our mission now demand more tangible value.
  • Given our visible role in recent policy battles, national funders are more interested in our work. We don’t know what work to prioritize.

When we hear these types of statements, our ears perk up and we move to the edge of our seat. The work that we are being asked to do is not the typical technical work of creating a strategic plan. It’s not about a small group of leaders gathering in a room to conduct a SWOT analysis and articulate goals and objectives.

The Latest Trends in Nonprofit Fundraising, Uncovered

“Does this sound like my organization?” 

That’s the first question you should ask yourself when reading the 2016 Individual Donor Benchmark Data Brief (this year, as an easy-to-read infographic). From there, you can evaluate your donor potential, enhance your strategy, and raise more money from individual donors!

Presented by Third Space Studio and BC/DC Ideas, the Individual Donor Benchmark (IDB) Project collects fundraising data from organizations with budgets under $2 million, seeking to identify trends nonprofits can use to evaluate their own fundraising success. In this, our fifth year, we surveyed over 150 nonprofits to find answers to questions like: 

Taking Time for Training

I'm guilty of it - and I bet you are, too. Neglecting my own professional development, even while I preach the importance of training to others. Whether the challenge is priorities, costs, or just not enough hours in the day, I often find it hard to make time for training.

Last month I broke my pattern and spent two and half days in a great workshop on designing learning experiences. I was reminded of the true value of taking time for my own training, even on a topic I consider one of my core competencies. In particular, I was reminded that trainings can:

  • Give me the time and space to reflect on a topic. Simply having the opportunity to pause and thinking about one topic at a time, with no (or fewer) distractions, is a gift. Whether it is one hour at a conference or two and half days for an immersive workshop, the time to reflect is an important benefit of training.

Meetings Are Expensive

Those of us work in organizations spend a lot of our time in meetings. They compete for time on our calendar.

Sometimes the time is well spent. We leave the meeting energized with a clear sense of direction or new understanding. We appreciate our teammates and feel a part of a dynamic organizational culture.

More often that not, the investment of our time and energy in a meeting is frittered away. The meeting is unproductive and we leave with our energy drained and our relationships frayed.

Movement Building Lessons from the Couch

We think a lot about leadership at Third Space Studio: the kind of leadership that’s about mobilizing other people to tackle the tough challenges, the challenges that require our willingness to change our own mindsets and behaviors if we are to find a solution. We’ve noticed that there are lots of opportunities to learn about leadership from the experiences all around us.  

The essay below is Meredith’s reflections from her observations of the Women’s March. When we agree with the content of an experience – and certainly when we disagree – there are opportunities to deepen our own leadership abilities and take the lessons to our own venues.

On January 21, 2017, I sat on my couch as millions of people around the world marched in the streets to proclaim women’s rights are human rights to the new President of the United States. I had intended to march in the streets of Raleigh, the capital of my home state, but was deterred by a strained ligament in my knee. The knee injury a result of an attempted split when I slid on a pencil left on the floor while I worked on my poster to proclaim “our power is love”.

Leading With a Question

In the last month, I’ve spoken with multiple nonprofit leaders who see a lot of uncertainty on the horizon and are feeling a bit paralyzed by it all. As I coach, converse, and commiserate, I’ve wanted to help them find a touchstone, something reliable in the midst of the unknown.

It finally came to me the other day when I was reading something about the power of questions ­– we love a good question at Third Space Studio. For generations, philosophers and religious leaders have reminded us that asking and welcoming questions provides us with guidance and direction. Ranier Maria Rilke implored us to “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”