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Improve Your Non-Profit’s Strategic Planning With A ‘Real-Time’ Approach

Real-Time Strategic Planning (RTSP) offers non-profits a fluid approach to identifying, understanding, and acting on challenges and opportunities to advance their missions. Is this process right for your organization? Below we will discuss.

What is it, exactly?

RTSP was first introduced by non-profit consultant David La Piana as “a coordinated set of actions designed to create and sustain a competitive advantage in achieving a non-profit’s mission.” A successful non-profit plan requires three levels of strategy: organizational, programmatic, and operational, using these building blocks of strategy formation:

  1. Understand your identity. Ask the following: What is your organization’s mission and impact? What do you do (programs and services), where (geographic scope), and for whom (constituents, clients, or customers)? And how do you pay for it?
  2. Identify your competitive advantage. What strengths do you leverage to differentiate your organization from others and compete effectively for resources and clients? This step requires analyzing other organizations in the same geographic area that offer similar programs, to similar constituents, with similar funding sources.
  3. Know how you will make decisions. Develop a ‘strategy screen’ composed of the criteria you will use to choose courses of actions. A strategy screen might consider, for example, if an option advances your mission and enhances your competitive advantage. It also considers if you have the capacity to carry out and pay for the option.
  4. Define the right strategic questions. Many questions naturally arise when presented with an opportunity, but they are not all strategic. Identify the strategic questions that must be answered now and sort operational questions (“Will we be able to hire more employees to execute our plan?”) from strategic questions (“What are the implications for our mission?”).

What about ‘competitive advantage?’

One of the most important components of RTSP is competitive advantage. In general, competitive advantage is the ability to advance your mission by 1) using a unique asset — or strength — no competitor in your area possesses, or 2) having outstanding execution of programs or services. Your competitive advantage must be something clients and funders value, for example:

  • Accessible locations or specialized property that enhances program delivery
  • A robust, diversified funding base
  • Great name recognition and reputation
  • Powerful partnerships and a well-connected board of directors

To make comparative judgments, of course, you need to identify and understand your competitors and their strengths. ‘Competitor’ in this context is not necessarily a negative term. Your competitors often are organizations you collaborate with. Nonetheless, you also are likely competing for donors, media coverage, board members, employees, volunteers, or clients.

Continuing process

Non-profits that implement RTSP have the tools to align their daily actions with their organization’s overall strategy and can work toward having a clear vision of their long-term direction. Contact us for more information.

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