Changing the Way the World Thinks about Strategy

Many – MANY times, when teaching Simplified Strategic Planning seminar, there will be attendees from non-profits.  Many of them enjoy the seminar, take the tools from the workbook, and use them productively.  Often they don’t think competitve business strategy applies to their non-profit and will comment that “this material is more suited to a business”.

Author, Robert W. Bradford

Robert W. Bradford

These people are both right and wrong.  It’s true, that many of the tools and examples in the seminar are designed to enhance profitability and competitive distinction in for-profit businesses.  You could even say they are optimized for profitability.  BUT it is a serious mistake to think that the principles of efficiency and differentiation aren’t useful for non-profits.

The truth is, both of these concepts are critically important for most non-profits

Yes, non-profits don’t exist to generate profit.  But a non-profit still must create value and efficiently allocate  resources in order to \ fulfill its mission well.  You may not see this  change things in the short term.  However, in the long term, money flocks to the more efficient organizations.  This is true if you are talking about private donations, foundation money or government funding.  So, you may not be profit-driven, but your sources of funding are almost always effectiveness-driven.  If that is so, you ignore the lessons of strategic effectiveness at the peril of your organization’s long-term health.

You need to be aware that funding sources, volunteers, and other critical resources will flow towards organizations that clearly articulate a distinctive strategy.  Many non-profits are learning the importance of branding to their mission.  The core concepts of strategic competency and strategic focus are vital to your ability to build and maintain a solid brand.  That is what attracts the people and resources you need to succeed in your mission.

Critical Stakeholders

Finally, you may not have “market segments” in the same way a manufacturer might.  Nevertheless, your stakeholders have a clear choice about where to spend their time and money.  Non-profits often mistake the stakeholders directly served by their mission for their “market”, and this is not useful.  The stakeholders who have the greatest range of choices, and whose resources are critical to your mission are your true “market”.  Competing for donors may be the area that most closely resembles “market based” activities in for-profits.  Those donors are purchasing something – whether it’s a good feeling, prestige, or a sense that they are contributing to their community or cause.  You often do have to “sell” them this “service”.

You may consider this a crass way to consider the fulfillment of your mission.  But the reality is that a strategy for efficiently doing these things will expand your ability to support your mission.  If you distinguish your organization in this regard, you can grow your funding, staff and mission-driven activities many fold.  Wouldn’t THAT be good?

How important is competitive strategy to your business?  Attend the Simplified Strategic Planning Seminar for more instruction on how to improve your competitive strategy.

Robert Bradford is President & CEO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  He can be reached at

© Copyright 2018 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission

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