5 Reasons Your Consultant Should NOT Write Your Strategic Plan

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Every philanthropist needs a strategy. It’s a framework to guide decision making. It gives you clarity on what you want to accomplish with your charitable giving, and direction on how to best accomplish it. Unfortunately, too many strategies are never implemented because funders ask consultants to summarize plans into well-written, well-designed and lengthy documents. This can be counterproductive.

I realize this seems counterintuitive. Let me explain.

Consultants can bring tremendous value. Many philanthropists—individual donors, foundations, and corporations—retain them to help create strategic plans. Consultants can help you articulate your purpose, determine your core values, understand your driving force, and clarify your goals and legacy. Consultants can ask funders the right questions. They can also facilitate decision-making, allowing you—the donor or executive director—the luxury of thinking and reflecting. The best consultants will help you formulate your strategy and stay accountable for implementation.

This is where the consultant’s job stops. The last thing—the very last thing—you should ask your consultant to do is to write your strategic plan. YOU should be the author.

Let’s say you just developed the strategy in a planning retreat. And, that work was a resounding success. You’ve articulated your top priorities for strategy implementation and identified “Accountability Champions” — the individuals accountable for each priority.

The next thing you—yes, YOU—should do is move swiftly into implementation. As in starting the next day.

You can summarize the decisions made at your strategy retreat into a one to two-page document. This might include mission, vision, values, strategy, goals, top implementation priorities, and who is accountable for each priority. That should take about an hour. After all, you are basically writing what was determined at your retreat.

Next, you ask Accountability Champions to list the top 10 things they must do next to implement their priorities and tell them to block time in their calendar to work on these. Then, you share this with your entire organization—whether that’s your family or a staff of a hundred. All stakeholders have a role in implementing your strategy. Finally, you implement.

Instead, leaders often delegate writing the Strategic Plan to a consultant. There are 5 reasons why this is a bad idea.

1. You need to internalize your strategy. The faster you internalize it, the faster you will implement it. If you have a consultant do it, they will internalize it, and you won’t.

2. You need to describe your strategy in language that is meaningful to you and your team. Your consultant will write it in language that is meaningful to her, or to her last client.

3. You need to stay focused. When you ask a consultant to write it, you call it a “deliverable” and toss in a bunch of junk. This junk might include summarizing the foundation’s history, the state of the world that caused you to develop this, or a summary of research findings that informed your strategy. When you write it yourself, you eliminate the extra stuff that takes a lot of staff time and is unnecessary.

4. You need to implement now. While your consultant is busy writing, you keep implementing your old strategy. Why bother to start the new strategy until it’s official, right? Wrong. You need to align your people, systems and structures to implement the new strategy immediately.

5. You don’t need to pay for flash. When you pay a consultant to write it, you waste time and money. You begin to expect the holy grail of strategic plans (after all, you are paying for this). You decide it not only should be beautifully designed. In fact, it should win a communications award! That costs money. Meanwhile, as described above, your team is working on your old strategy and not the new one. Add up your annual personnel costs, calculate 25% of that cost, and you quickly see what a three-month delay in strategy implementation costs you.

I recently helped a foundation formulate and implement its new strategy. With their last strategic plan, their consultant spent three months drafting a strategic plan document. There was revision after revision. After the document was copy-edited it went to the graphic designer. Six months later they had a beautifully designed strategic plan document, complete with photos and infographics. In month seven they shared it with their board for approval, and it was voted upon the following month. Guess what? They lost eight months of implementation. They were almost half-way into their two-year strategic plan and all they had to show was a document.

When they asked me to help them refresh their strategy, I refused to write their strategic plan. They balked at first, but eventually agreed it was in their best interest to write it themselves. The result? They were delighted.

“You mean, all we need right now is this one-page overview?” asked the CEO.

“Yes,” I replied.

“This is such a relief!” she responded. Within weeks, implementation was well underway.

With strategy implementation, you need your consultant’s brain not an extra pair of hands. Summarize it yourself, and you will move quickly from your current state to your desired future!

If you want to learn more about rapid strategy development and implementation, be sure to read my new book, Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail to Achieve Change And What They Can Do To Transform GivingPre-order it now and receive free bonus offers, including a private coaching session and having me speak at your next event!

© 2020 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

About Kris Putnam-Walkerly

I’m a global philanthropy expert, advisor and award-winning author. I help ultra-high net worth donors, celebrities, foundations and Fortune 500 companies dramatically increase the clarity, speed, impact and joy of their giving. I’m the author of Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail to Achieve Change And What They Can Do To Transform GivingandConfident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, was named one of “America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers” (along with U2’s Bono!), I write about philanthropy for Forbes.comAlliance MagazineDe Dikke Blauwe and am frequently quoted in leading publications such as BloombergNPR and WSJ

Whether you are just getting started in philanthropy, want to refresh your giving strategy, or need to catapult yourself to your desired future, I can help. Let’s talk! Call me at +1-800-598-2102 x1, email me at kris@putnam-consulting.com or schedule a call.

Pre-Order NOW to take advantage of FREE bonuses!

I’m so excited to share with you that my next book, Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change and What They Can Do To Transform Givingwill be published by on March 24th, but is available for pre-order NOW! I can’t wait to share with you the many ways we are all “delusional” in our altruism and how we get in our own way without even realizing it. And you know me—the book also provides tons of tips and suggestions of what you can do differently to transform your giving!

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“Kris’s deep knowledge and experience in philanthropy is invaluable. Her ability to identify and distill best practices beyond the obvious and then translate them into actionable approaches is a gift to every funder. Whether it’s through her advising, books, articles or speaking, Kris’s insights and messages are enabling philanthropists to increase their impact and find even more joy in their work.”

Mamie Kanfer Stewart, Director, Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation 

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Want to learn more? Visit my website to learn how I help funders, access free resources, and read client testimonials.

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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