Four Simple Steps to Shift From Planning to Doing

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You can quickly shift from planning to doing by following these four easy steps.

Philanthropy focuses a lot of time and brainpower on the how-to of strategic planning and very little on practical implementation. And yet, if not implemented effectively all your planning will waste time and resources. Change is hard work. So, while this may sound obvious, the biggest risk when implementing your new strategy is continuing to do everything the way you did it before. Instead, here are four simple steps to jump-start your new direction.

Step 1: Identify Your Top Priorities

Having a new strategic plan isn’t enough. You must now identify your top priorities for achieving it. You can’t focus on 15 or 30 things at once! Pick the top two or three priorities – the most important things that must happen next. If you don’t have clarity about your top organization-wide implementation priorities, you won’t achieve your strategy.

Also, don’t assume that because your entire team was involved in strategic planning, they will know what’s most important to do next. We all view strategy through our own lens and how it impacts our work.

Next, tell everyone what your top priorities are, be it program officers, family members, your wealth advisor, or the receptionist. Everyone has a role to play.

Step 2: Hold Everyone Accountable

Assign a champion for each priority. While not doing everything, this person makes sure a specific priority is achieved, and they are held accountable.

Ask priority champions to create a list of the top 5–10 most important activities that need to happen next for their priority. For each item, add a deadline. You don’t need a GANTT chart — keep it simple.

For example, if a top priority is to increase girls’ access to education in Africa, your top 5–10 activities might include:

  1. Identify other funders who are funding girls’ access to education in Africa to learn from them. Start with reviewing members of the Africa Grantmakers Affinity Group. (1 week)
  2. Schedule calls to talk with each funder to understand the funding landscape better. (2 weeks)
  3. Spend one month researching this topic to understand needs and best practices. (4 weeks)
  4. Identify and talk with potential intermediary organizations that can facilitate international grantmaking. (4 weeks)
  5. Determine if and how to narrow our focus by focusing on particular regions or countries, types of educational needs, or grade levels. (8 weeks)
  6. Create a list of potential grantees. (8 weeks)
  7. Determine an annual grantmaking budget. (12 weeks)
  8. Develop funding guidelines. (14 weeks)

Identify who will help. Your financial advisor can forecast funding. A program associate can assist with research. You can also identify supporters and resisters. Some on your team will enthusiastically embrace the change. Harness their enthusiasm and engage their leadership. Some will resist. Help them see why it makes sense to get on board. Sometimes your strongest resisters can become your staunchest allies.

Share progress with everyone, maybe biweekly to start, perhaps monthly after implementation is in full swing. Put these dates on your calendar. When priority champions bring their lists and update everyone on progress, it holds them accountable and lets your team troubleshoot and solve problems together. As you accomplish activities, add new ones to the list.

Step 3: Change Your Ways

To achieve whatever goals you’ve set for yourself, change three things: how you spend your time, your people, and your systems and processes. All of them need to be aligned to implement your strategy.

  1. Your Time. It may seem simple and obvious, but if you don’t block out time in your calendar to work on your new top priorities, you will fail at implementation. Guess what else you have to do? Get rid of all that stuff that is no longer a priority. Proceed carefully to avoid burning any bridges, but if you try to be everything to everyone, you will satisfy no one, yourself included.
  2. Your People. Sometimes the new strategy is not the right fit for members of your team. Anticipating this in advance and acknowledging it openly with everyone can help mitigate awkwardness and pain down the road.

    Maybe you’re building your philanthropic future alone, with a partner, or through a donor-advised fund. Honestly reflect on the people you surround yourself with. Reduce or eliminate time spent with people holding you back and increase time with those who support you, including those who challenge you to do better.

    You also may need to bring in new talent or expertise. This could include employees, consultants, board members, partners, experts, a community advisory board, evaluators, a virtual assistant, or a fractional CFO. Be open to a variety of ways you can obtain the expertise and support you need.

  3. Your Systems and Processes. It’s not just people and time that need to align with your strategic vision. How those people are structured, and the way they interact must align, too. For example:
    • Grants: This could include grant size, multi-year grants, provision of general operating support, funding of policy advocacy, and more. Don’t assume bigger is better.
    • Operations: This could include everything from how you manage human resources and how you code and track grants to your financial and grants management systems.
    • Your role as a funder: You might need to change how you interact in your community, by, for example, joining local funding collaboratives or advocating for policy change with state legislators.

Step 4: Maintain Momentum

The quicker you begin implementing your strategic plan, the more momentum you will gain. The more momentum you gain, the faster everyone gets on board (including the resisters) and the quicker you achieve results. Think of it as a series of short sprints rather than a marathon. You want to start meeting milestones and celebrating accomplishments quickly. These can be significant accomplishments (we created our first communications plan!), wonky wins (we recoded our grants management system!), and tiny victories (we identified potential grantees!). Everyone will appreciate being appreciated.

Strategy most often fails in implementation, not formulation. But if you follow these four steps you will stay focused and accountable, accelerate your speed of implementation, and quickly shift from a planner into a doer.

Need help rapidly developing or implementing your strategy? Schedule a free strategy call with me. I’m happy to share my best advice to help you avoid the headaches and time-drains of typical strategic planning process, so that you can quickly get on with changing the world!

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