One resource that always seems to be in short supply for nonprofit leaders is time. Almost by definition, we’re trying to do too much with too little. Which was why an interview with the co-CEO and founder of GoodRx made us stop and take notice.

According to CNBC, the GoodRx leader:

…has a surprisingly simple method for getting the best ideas: setting aside three to four hours of alone time for deep thinking per week.

Three to four hours of alone time? That sounds like a luxury few nonprofit leaders can afford.

But the interview also made us wonder: What if time for deep thinking isn’t a luxury, but a necessity?

And is there an opportunity cost for not creating time and space for deep thinking?

 

How Strategic Planning Facilitates Deep Thinking

We aren’t the only ones pondering deep thinking. Forbes reports that:

The ability to think clearly, deeply and productively is one of the most valuable professional skills in the workplace today—but it’s also becoming one of the most endangered.

Here at Funding for Good, we work with dozens of organizations each year to create strategic plans. We’ve noticed time and again how the strategic planning process becomes a vital opportunity for nonprofit leaders to engage in deep thinking.

The key is in how strategic planning combines:

 

  • New inputs: As part of the strategic planning process, facilitators gather input from internal stakeholders, such as staff and board, and outside stakeholders, such as donors, community members and leaders of partner organizations. This often reveals challenges and opportunities that either weren’t on leaders’ radars or that they hadn’t had the time to consider yet.

 

  • Dedicated time and space: In an era of increasing distractibility, strategic planning requires that board and staff leaders set aside dedicated time and space to think about their organization and its future. This isn’t simply a presentation or rehashing practiced talking points. Instead, strategic planning retreats are a joint process designed to unearth an organization’s biggest challenges and greatest potential–and grapple with these in real time.

 

  • Problem-solving and consensus-building: In the strategic planning process, staff leaders and board members are charged with collectively charting their organization’s future. These consensus-building conversations aren’t about pressuring people to agree, however. Instead, they’re about exploring the questions at hand, evaluating potential paths forward, and aligning around a shared direction.

 

Combined, these factors create the perfect context for deep thinking. In fact, deep thinking becomes a necessity, not a luxury.

 

Getting the Benefits of Strategic Planning in Your Daily Work

In our experience, nonprofit leaders emerge from a strategic planning process with new clarity and inspiration. Leaders are full of fresh ideas and recommitted to their organization’s future.

That’s the power of deep thinking.

Unfortunately, strategic planning only happens every three to five years.

So, how can you get the benefits of strategic planning in your day-to-day work?

 

  • Commit to strategic thinking. Too often, nonprofit leaders see a strategic plan as a one-time activity. A document they create and put in a drawer. But the reality is the strategic planning process should kickstart a long-term commitment to strategic thinking.

 

  • Use your strategic plan as a guidepost for decision-making. Your strategic plan is more than a list of activities and benchmarks to check off. It’s a dynamic roadmap of guiding principles designed to help leaders make smarter, more strategic decisions. When faced with decisions large or small, you can use your strategic plan to evaluate options and identify which ones best move your organization toward its goals.

 

  • Review your strategic plan quarterly. A strategic plan should be a living document. Funding for Good recommends organizations review progress against their strategic plan at least twice per year, ideally quarterly. When reviewing the plan with your board and staff, you can assess what’s working, what’s not, and how to adapt. By creating a routine, you’ll be able to tap back into the deep thinking of the strategic planning process on a regular basis.

 

By integrating these activities into your workflow, deep thinking will become a part of your job as a nonprofit leader. Even better, you’ll reap the benefits of deep thinking without piling onto an already packed schedule.

 

Interested in more ways to foster a productive and strategic nonprofit organization? Check out our 2023 Webinar Series: Nonprofit Capacity Building.

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