Asking for advice is never easy. But it’s hard, maybe impossible, to overestimate the power of good strategic advice, whether it comes from within your organization or externally.
A recent NPR piece about Polar Night, reminded us just how valuable advice from trusted, experienced sources can be.
To most of us, a night that lasts two months sounds like a nightmare. But for the people of Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago halfway to the North Pole, Polar Night is an annual reality that some even enjoy.
So, what transforms a potentially difficult and hazardous Polar Night—aka two months of complete and utter darkness—into an extraordinary and positive experience?
It’s all about preparation, perspective, and experience.
Strategic Advice and the Importance of Preparation
According to NPR, during Polar Night in Svalbard:
In addition to the headlamps, Svalbard’s inhabitants travel in pairs outside their village. They carry flare guns to ward off the polar bears.
Nonprofit leaders don’t necessarily need to carry flare guns, unless they live in the Arctic, but they can benefit from a range of tools designed to prepare organizations for the unexpected. These include:
- Comprehensive Environmental Scans: An environmental scan is an assessment of external factors that can potentially impact your organization in the present or future. By conducting an environmental scan, your nonprofit can determine whether there are, say, polar bears sniffing around your cabin that you need to prepare for.
- SWOT or SWOTA Analysis: Complementing an environmental scan, a SWOT analysis considers your organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses. At Funding for Good, we actually conduct SWOTA analyses, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats, and Achievements. If you’re in Svalbard during Polar Night, you your strength might be excellent aim and your achievements might include chasing off polar bears multiple times.
- Strategic Plans: Finally, your strategic plan pulls it all together. You consider vision and mission (such as getting to the grocery store for supplies), as well as strategies, activities, and benchmarks for success. All of which requires planning for what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it. If you’re talking about Polar Night, that means making sure you have your flare gun. For nonprofit leaders, you’ll need a great staff team, a strong Board of Directors, a solid evaluation plan, and a clear donor relations strategy.
To create each of these tools, Funding for Good recommends bringing together both internal and external expertise. For example, for strategic planning you’ll want to work with experienced facilitators who have guided dozens of organizations like yours.
Yet at the same time, the strategic planning process should be about bringing together your own organization’s staff and board leadership to identify challenges and co-create solutions. The result combines the power of internal and external expertise.
Experience and Perspective Work Hand-in-Hand
Which brings us back to Svalbard and the wise advice of local resident Hilde Fålun Strøm:
… if you look at the darkness as a limiting thing, well, then you’re going to get limited by it. But if you see it as an opportunity to experience something else, to me, it’s easier to find the beauty in the darkness.
And the first step in finding that beauty, is being prepared for the challenges ahead.