Strategic Projects

Historically, the success of a project was based upon its outcome. If the desired result was achieved, on time, and within budget, it was a success. In our highly competitive world, the long-term success of your nonprofit, the relevance of your mission, the success of your clients, the satisfaction of your donors, and your nonprofit’s sustainability depend on something more.

Now success depends on doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, and at the right time. Until recently, doing it in the right way meant executing the plan ontime and within budget. Operating within the time and budget constraints is still important but success also demands that one consider the project’s environmental impact, demographic diversity, political neutrality, and ethnic sensitivity. In addition, it is no longer sufficient to have good intentions. The results must be meaningful, measurable, and durable.

Whatever is done must be externally focused. This includes thinking about how to do it to the best advantage of the clients, create the greatest possible value for the community, and avoid the detriment of any one or group, including competitors. Previously, the focus was on making a profit or at least avoiding a loss. Now it is expected that nonprofits will engage their donors to cover any losses because the value to the communities and others justifies the donors’ support.

Previously nonprofits undertook their projects when the timing was right for them. Now they are expected to coordinate their activities to ensure the value to the community is optimized. This implies nonprofits must collaborate more with others and be flexible.

Nonprofits must be externally focused in every possible way.

The result and significant benefit is that every project becomes a strategic endeavor. Past projects were often justified based upon their internal, immediate, or near-term results. While those projects often provided external benefits, very little attention was paid to the benefits or how to measure them. Often the external benefits were only realized after several years. Now the assessment of the success of a project is dominated by the external perspective.

Projects can still be undertaken for their internal value. However, community support and donor engagement are becoming more dependent on external value. This forces the nonprofit to take the long view. It must determine how its project will benefit its community and how it can maximize the external benefits both immediately and over the long-term. In addition, it must track the external benefits and report success.

Responding to the changing demands will increase donor and community support. However, there will be a time lag between today’s project and when the results will be available to generate the increased external support. In the meantime, your nonprofit must convince current donors to provide the support needed to fill the gap.

Filling the gap is possible. Your compelling case rests on your commitment to use your mission to do so much more for your community. The ‘so much more’ is the additional benefits your nonprofit is creating by being more externally focused.

Next Step:

Design every project to have strategic value

Ensure that everything your nonprofit does has both internal and external value

Predict, measure, and report the external value of everything your nonprofit does

Use both the intended and actual strategic value of your nonprofit’s activities to increase donor and community support

Being more externally focused and external-value driven will increase your nonprofit’s sustainability and your community’s perception of your mission’s relevance. It will also provide your nonprofit with a competitive advantage when recruiting new donors, enrolling clients, and increasing community support.

Every nonprofit exists to strengthen its community. Being intentional and accountable for changing your community ensures that everyone will recognize the importance of your nonprofit, the relevance of your mission, and will be more willing to provide support for the success and sustainability of your mission.

Take It Further:

Change your accounting system to track and report the cost of being externally focused


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