Every nonprofit organization builds its success on well-defined strategies. But what happens when those strategies, once so promising, start to show cracks? Knowing when to adjust the strategies in your strategic plan and when to give your strategy time to play out can be a critical turning point for the leadership of your organization. How can you tell if something is amiss?


Three Common Red Flags:

  1. Missed Targets: Are you consistently falling short of your stated targets on your strategic plan’s dashboard? Do you have a dashboard to track the plan’s progress? Missed targets can be a strong indicator that your approach might need rethinking.
  2. External and Internal Environment Shifts: Has the world around your organization changed dramatically since your strategic plan was completed? Have you had a significant leadership change? Have you lost a strategic advantage by a new provider that offers similar programs, or services? Has there been an unexpected economic trend that might necessitate recalibrating your strategy?
  3. Key Leadership Disengagement: Is leadership (volunteer and staff) unenthusiastic about the strategy or unclear about how their work contributes to the success of the organization? Has there been a culture shift in the organization? How many strategies are the organization trying to execute? Low morale is often the result of exhaustion. Remember, culture eats strategy! If the environment isn't supportive, your plan is unlikely to survive.


Not every blip in the road signifies a failed strategy. Sometimes patience is critical. If your strategy is aimed at achieving long-term goals, short-term setbacks shouldn't necessarily be cause for alarm. Focus on tracking progress along the way. Sometimes, even a sound strategy can struggle due to poor execution. Before abandoning ship, assess if operational inefficiencies or a lack of resources are hindering progress. If unforeseen external factors like a natural disaster or political upheaval are impacting your organization’s performance, give your strategy time to weather the storm.

If the red flags are too many to count and persistent, it's time to re-evaluate.


Here are a few tips for you to consider:

  1. Data-Driven Decisions: Use internal data and metrics to pinpoint areas where strategies need improvement. This data-driven approach will help key leadership of the organization to prioritize changes based on facts, not hunches.
  2. Gather Input: Seek out feedback, particularly from key leaders within the organization. Understanding their concerns allows you to address them proactively.
  3. Break Down the Change: As the Heath brothers suggest in their book "Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard", resist the urge for a drastic overhaul. Instead, break down your strategic changes into smaller, more achievable steps. This makes the process less intimidating and fosters buy-in from your team.
  4. Celebrate Milestones: Acknowledge and celebrate even small wins. These successes build momentum and keep everyone engaged in the change process.

Strategy is an ongoing process. Regularly monitor performance and be prepared to adjust as needed. By understanding the signs of a failing strategy and knowing when to adapt, organizations can ensure their plans remain relevant and drive your strategies towards long-term success.




Every nonprofit leader will face a time when even the best plans don't work out. When that happens, working harder isn't necessarily the answer. It might be time for a reset. This summer, we'll be sharing stories and ideas to regroup, reimagine, reinvigorate... and reset!                                                               

Posted by Richard Clegg
Richard Clegg

Written by Richard Clegg

Richard Clegg serves as a strategic consultant and thinking partner for a wide range of nonprofit organizations. His 40+ years of experience working in various program, leadership, and executive positions gives him unique insight into the challenges and complexities of managing mission-based organizations. Richard holds an Advanced Consultant certification with BoardSource. Before coming to DBD Group, Richard consulted with YMCAs and other nonprofit community-based organizations with operating revenues from $1M to $80M in the areas of strategy development, strategic planning, board development and governance, executive transition, and organizational capacity building.

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