Moving From Defence To Offence: Maintaining Momentum in Uncertain Times – Bulletin 7
As we see the world responding to the COVID-19 situation, we know there is a significant amount of uncertainty, and even fear, about what it all means and what we as organizations and professionals should be doing in our response. To help answer those questions, KCI has created a Bulletin Series to provide timely advice about how to navigate this situation as it evolves while continuing to maintain momentum in your fundraising programs and activities.
MOVING FROM DEFENCE TO OFFENCE: KICK STARTING LONGER-TERM PLANNING
The attention of organizations over the last few weeks and months has been almost exclusively focused on how to adapt, adjust, and frankly survive these unprecedented times. And rightly so. In this bulletin series, we, too have focused on a short-term time horizon, seeking to help organizations navigate the here and now. How to engage with donors. How to retool events. How to do scenario planning. How to conduct virtual interviews. How to refine your case.
It’s now time to start to think ahead.
In any crisis, leaders and organizations run the risk of being drawn too far and staying too long in an immediate, reactive decision-making mode. So, if you haven’t already, it is now time to begin a shift from reactive, ‘crisis-oriented’ decision making to longer-term, proactive ‘strategic’ decision making. In other words, it’s time to start moving from defence to offence and turn attention back to how to move your organization forward.
Balancing the near and long term
While it is time to shift to a longer term view, we will continue to navigate significant volatility for the foreseeable future and, as such, organizations will need to operate in multiple modes of planning. The biggest challenge in the next few weeks and months will be to find the right balance in thinking and action between addressing immediate challenges with mid-term recovery planning and longer-term future planning. Without neat distinctions between each phase, it will require agility to switch between planning modes. But, the better you are able to navigate seamlessly between each and the quicker you start to incorporate longer-term horizons in your planning, the better off your organization will be.
Three Organizational Planning Horizons
Practical tips for how to plan now
The term planning conjures up images of committees and processes and timelines. While this type of formalized planning will be needed at some point, particularly as you turn your attention to ‘Reimagining Your Future’, it’s not what is needed now. In our current environment, planning requires a much more agile and nimble mindset and approach.
Here are some practical tips to guide your planning activities to marry a focus on the now with starting to set you and your organization up for recovery and success.
1. Favour action over analysis and assessment. Planning today needs to be guided by a ‘start-up’ mindset characterized by a willingness to move fast, take risks, adjust course and learn constantly. Above all, it needs to be guided by two words; Do Something. Even if not perfect or ideal, important to put actions and activities in place that you believe will help you move forward.
2. Act with urgency. If not already implicit in the first piece of guidance, it is critical to act with urgency. Create that sense of urgency by how you articulate your plan through goals and deadlines, as well as by how you work with your teams. Conduct team meetings on Monday mornings to set focus and priorities for the week and check-ins on Fridays to celebrate accomplishments. Executive teams should meet weekly to assess progress, and on a monthly basis set aside a chunk of time to sketch out monthly and quarterly plans.
3. Create a rolling 30-60-90 day plan. Set goals and intentions to guide activities and outcomes for the upcoming month as well as the next two and three months. Keep these plans simple, straightforward and activity focused. What will you do in the next 30 days? Where do you want to be in 60 days? 90 days? Update these plans monthly, and over time it will become clear when you can lengthen your planning horizon.
4. Pick three things. Identify three areas of focus for your teams looking through two time horizons; the upcoming 30-days and the upcoming quarter. Filter your thinking through the two lenses of ‘what needs to be done now to ensure survival’ and ‘what will set us up for continued recovery and success’. Priorities could include creating targeted fundraising campaigns, undertaking donor stewardship, digitizing fundraising channels, developing staff skill sets, etc.
5. Motivate and focus your team. Nothing is accomplished without your team and its ability to execute on the activities you have identified. So, find ways to keep them motivated, engaged and focused at a time when none of theses things are easily done. Create monthly ‘sprint challenges’ that focus on what the team will accomplish over the next 30 days. And use your Monday meetings as motivational opportunities to focus team members on what they want to accomplish that week.
6. Assess-Adjust, Assess-Adjust. Fundamental to planning right now is the need to revisit, review and refresh as necessary. On a monthly basis, senior teams should meet to assess their current 30-60-90 days plans and adjust as required, guiding discussions by the following questions:
- From our original plans, what still holds true? What do we need to rethink?
- Are there things we are doing that we should stop? What should we start?
- Over the past month, what have we learned? What opportunities have emerged?
- What is the most important thing for us to do right now?
Leave some breathing room
Perhaps the most important piece of advice when it comes to planning and resource allocation at this moment is to leave some space and breathing room in your plans. In a time of such significant uncertainty and rapid change, it’s crucial to maintain this organizational capacity to seize opportunities as they arise. So, be sure to leave some space, both philosophically and practically, to respond to changing circumstances and emerging opportunities.
And finally, involve and consult your board. Not only is it important to ensure that the board is kept fully in the loop on your plans and activities, members may be able to provide helpful advice and guidance in the development of your plans. Consider creating a specific task force of the board that is charged specifically with supporting your planning over the next several months.
Reimagining the future
As the dust begins to settle and we emerge from this period of acute crisis, it will be imperative for boards and senior management to lead their organizations through longer term visioning and planning exercises. They will need to examine, revisit, and potentially reimagine their overall organizational and fundraising strategies. They will also want to fortify the resilience of the organization, ensuring their organizations have robust business continuity plans and are not caught unprepared if something like this happens again.
In certain instances, some of what organizations put in place to survive in the short term and recover in the medium term will inform and serve as building blocks of their future strategy. But, committing fully to a future vision, path and set of activities is something that must be supported by a robust, formalized planning process that involves a variety of stakeholders.
As always, we end with these overall reminders…
- Prepare and respond…but don’t panic. Do what you can do. Much will be out of our control, so important to focus thought, effort and energy on what we can influence.
- Stay focused, positive and confident. Convey stability, confidence and capability in all your activities and communications, both internally and externally.
- No singular strategy. While steered by guidelines and best practice, the best strategies will be customized to individual institutions and their constituencies.
- We’ve been here before. Apply the learnings from previous emergencies and disasters. We’ve made it through times of crisis before and we will make it through.
- Don’t shut everything down. Maintain the course while making prudent adjustments to strategy and budget. We know from previous experience that those who do will emerge more strongly.
- Communicate. While not inundating stakeholders with unnecessary communication, now is not the time to go silent. Keep your constituents, both internal and external, engaged and informed.