Linking Challenge to Opportunity to Strategy
Originally appeared in Philanthropy News Digest
Most of us dread the annual strategic planning process. It's a daunting task to have to stop and think about the future when your days are already super busy with the work you do for your organization's clients and beneficiaries.
Then there's the fact that the plan itself can be a document that inspires and creates a visionary context for an organization, or, as I've seen lately, a series of work plans detailing what the organization is going to do over the next few years and how it's going to do it.
Regardless of which approach your organization takes, here are a few things to think about as you and your colleagues sit down to develop your next strategic plan:
- Your supporters really don't care how the ship runs; they care about what your organization is doing to help people and advance its cause.
- Your supporters don't want to know about how you're going to boost the reach and impact of your communications. From their perspective, you should be doing that anyway. They do care about what lies ahead for the organization, and what they can do to help make change happen.
- Your supporters want to believe your plan will get more people like them to support your cause or issue. They want to be assured you have a handle on your overall strategy and the tactics needed to implement it. And they want to be reminded why they are important to your organization's success.
The points above underscore the important role individual supporters play in the change process. I hope they also convey a sense of the linkage that is often missing from strategic plans: challenge begets opportunity begets strategy.
Creating a "Challenge" Narrative for Supporters
It is crucial that supporters feel compelled to act by your challenge narrative. And the hardest part of that is making sure it conveys enough urgency to cause potential supporters to say, "Wow, I need to step up and do something." Your narrative should do two things:
- help individual supporters conceptualize how your issue could lose momentum or the attention of others without your organization's laser-like focus on it;
- deliver a compelling story about how others benefit from your work.
Here's an example:
Over the next ten to twenty years, many of the beaches in our state will lose up to ten feet to erosion. That means the next time you visit your favorite stretch of sand, you may not be able to fly a kite, throw a Frisbee or football, or enjoy any of the other activities you associate with a day at the beach....
In the above, the organization has connected an outcome time frame with a few examples that any beach lover could relate to.
Creating an "Opportunity" Narrative for Supporters
The opportunity narrative is all about the exciting things that lie ahead for your organization. This is where you link challenge to engagement through the use of participatory language that:
- helps individual supporters imagine themselves as part of the solution to the problem;
- underscores how they are joining others in a cause worth fighting for.
Here's an example:
Beach erosion can be mitigated if we get others to understand the impact of rising sea levels on our beaches. One out of three residents of our state believes the issue needs to be addressed now, before it's too late. There are people ready to meet that challenge. Won't you join us?...
In the above, the organization has connected the challenge, beach erosion caused by rising sea levels, with an opportunity to do something about it and links potential supporters with a cause bigger than themselves.
Creating a "Strategy" Narrative for Supporters
The strategy narrative should convey to people the fact that your organization has a plan to address the problem. It should be clear and direct (avoid jargon and arcane terminology!) and be crafted to help the donor:
- visualize a concrete approach to the challenge;
- understand the bold action needed to address it.
Here's an example:
We have a plan to address beach erosion.
Over the next three years, we will raise an army of "ambassadors" to elevate the discussion about the problem and drive action to slow and, ultimately, reverse it. We will recruit like-minded individuals to talk to others about beach erosion, organize events to raise support for the issue, and develop relationships with public-sector decision-makers who can craft and pass new legislation designed to protect our beaches....
In the above, the organization has connected its strategy to the immediate challenge and laid out the crucial role its supporters will play in implementing that strategy.
Being able to link challenge to opportunity to strategy is critically important to the fundraising success of any nonprofit. And one key to that is developing a narrative that helps individual supporters understand their role in your organization's story and what they can do to help bring about change. Most importantly, your narrative should inspire supporters to see themselves not only as people who give, but as communicators with a compelling story to share with others about a brighter, better future.
If implemented correctly, the "linkage" approach will enable your organization and its supporters to overcome almost any challenge.