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The Big Problem with Most Strategic Planning in the Nonprofit Sector.

Several of my friends and peers are working for nonprofit and political organizations that are in the throws of a new round "strategic planning". Unfortunately, most plans are filled with horrible mistakes, unrealistic expectations of the ability to control variables beyond the control of group, and a level of "me first" thinking that is not only bad for the group but also devastating to network dynamics.

Strategic planning has been for boom industry for the nonprofit sector for the last 20 years. Foundations and donors interested in quicker payoff to match the dot-com boom in return on investment have laid out millions of dollars to develop strategic plans. Most nonprofit directors have a very clear "off the record" opinion of the strategic plan process. They are frustrated with the funds that have been dumped into consultants and non-profit groups for strategic development and planning which typically look at the organization as a stand alone unit in a world of competing interest. They also feel the plans do not account for the real life variability and opportunity that exists in the nonprofit sector.

I have been in large training sessions with respected "strategic" consultants that make a sport of mocking the ways executive directors and field staff keep their noses stuck to the wrong circles and don't step back to see the planning picture.

Strategic plans typically stem or flow from the mission statements of the organizations and have enhanced the "balkinization" of the sector. The myopic focus has created legions of managers that focus on what is "good for my organization" what is the return on investment on the measured benchmarks..(membership, email list, media clips, donations, legislation passed, people served ...by my group).

Most strategic planning seems to throw away instincts of field leaders and create a competitive and hostile environment for building network capacity. The strongest plans typically lead to the destruction of social capital between groups because by design they eliminate the option to work on unrelated work for friends.

There are exceptions but they are few and far flung. I would love to see 50 strategic plans for nonpofits to tease out how many of them ever mention network capacity growing activities. Lets see plans that include developing symbiotic relationships, service to allies, investing in larger network efficiency,brainstorming and opportunistic responses. I want to see strategic weight given to growing nontraditional alliances (which includes by default work on supporting nontraditional outputs.). I doubt if any of these elements are in any strategic plan.

Howard Riengold is on to some real cool ideas that tend to challenge the "me first" goal of strategic planning.

Darwin had a blind spot. It wasn't that he didn't see the role of cooperation in evolution. He just didn't see how important it is. So for two centuries -- a time during which the world passed from an agrarian landscape into a global post-industrial culture of unprecedented scale and complexity --science, society, public policy and commerce have attended almost exclusively to the role of competition. The stories people tell themselves about what is possible, the mythical narratives that organizations and societies depend upon, have been variations of "survival of the fittest." The role of cooperation has been largely unmapped.

Strategic plans can have these elements but the problem is that there is so much "baggage" with strategic planning that we really need to pitch "anti-plan plans". New maps for managing nonprofits and producing output in today's climate.

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