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Strategic Planning For An Authentic World

Jennifer Mulholland & Jeff Shuck
April 11, 2016

As Jennifer outlined in her recent post, “We Are The Ones We Are Looking For,” our worldview at Plenty is that we are entering a new era of authenticity – one in which the old paradigms of hierarchy and division are giving way to more collaborative and interconnected ways of thinking and acting. In this world, how we show what we feel is becoming more important than how we say what we know. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in fundraising, where increasingly constituents no longer feel compelled to participate in a campaign because they think they should. Rather, they seek to support ethical, modern, transparent organizations making true impact. It is not enough to expect support because you believe you have a good cause — you have to prove you deserve support because you are truly making a difference. 

For our work with hundreds of social impact organizations, we believe that the traditional way of problem-solving and strategic planning needs to adapt to this new reality. In our experience, the conventional model of strategic planning starts with goal-setting. It is generally group-centric and left-brained: we gather around a table, a white board, or a meeting room, and we think about what we all should do to achieve a set of numbers. 

The problem is that numbers seldom appeal to anyone’s best or highest sense of what motivates them or what they hope to achieve in life. And so we don’t believe the traditional strategic planning model works anymore, if it ever did. In order to thrive in our new environment, we have to realize that our hearts are as important as our heads. What we know is incredibly important – we have to be smart, analytical, and rigorous – but we can’t start there. We start with the heart. We have to embrace the idea that organizations are only as powerful as the people in them. To create successful organizations, we need to have seen, activated, and whole people. We start with individuals.

Plenty-Strategy-Model-RGB-final-as-of-20160329-lrg.pngAll of our engagements, whether two days or two years, are built on the same theory of change – a theory designed to unlock passion for transformative individual and organizational impact:

1. Connect with Passion

2. Align with Purpose

3. Articulate Possibility

4. Create Progress, Together

Using that philosophy, we’ve built a seven-part strategy model to help teams, programs, and entire organizations transform their results.

  • Everything starts and ends with passion, which impacts all the components. We must align our work with our deepest passions, and then bring them alive in our actions. If we have passion, it infuses into everything we do. If we don’t, no strategy, plan, asset, or team will be successful.
  • Purpose outlines our core reason for being – why we do what we do.
  • Possibility is our vision for change – the better world we are trying to build. It is the highest outcome of what we can all achieve working together.
  • Positioning describes how we articulate our differentiators. It outlines how we set ourselves apart from the competition — and even how we define who the competition is. Positioning is intertwined with target audiences – who we serve and how we relate to them.
  • Presence describes our brand and place in the market. It dictates how we describe ourselves and how people experience us – and what channels we use to send our messages, services, and experiences.
  • People are the core ingredient in everything every organization does. We can only create change in the world through people that embody the shared passion of the organization, and vice versa. And once we get people with shared passion, we need to ensure they sit in the right positions.
  • Process represents the metrics, meetings, habits, rituals, and infrastructure we use to achieve our strategy. This is where goals come in. Don’t get us wrong — goals are tremendously important. But we don’t start there. We start with passion, and our passions help us set the goals. 

It is truly incredible what groups of people can achieve when they articulate their deepest shared values and dreams, and then apply those to the challenges and opportunities at hand. Goals can power growth, to be sure — but transformation comes from someplace deeper. It comes from your heart. 

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