August 22, 2011

Start with Strategy: Use the network’s unified strategy to drive decision making

This five elements approach is designed to help nonprofit networks improve performance across the organization. But before engaging in this process, affiliates and the center need a fairly solid consensus about what they are trying to accomplish, and for whom or what.

By: Justin Pasquariello


Do affiliates throughout your network share a common, well-articulated strategy?

The five elements approach is designed to help networks improve performance across the organization.  But before engaging in this process, affiliates and the center need a fairly solid consensus about what they are trying to accomplish, and for whom or what.  The path toward greater network impact should emerge from your network’s strategy and be informed by a clear understanding of your network’s goals.

For more information on developing a network strategy, please see "National Networks: Planning Can Align a National Nonprofit Network for Full Impact." For more general information about business planning for nonprofits, please see "Business Planning for Nonprofits: What It Is and Why It Matters."

Beginning the five elements approach

This work is time-consuming and resource intensive. It is critical to be clear up front about how the effort will help the organization improve at the local as well as the network level. Staff throughout the network need to understand that they will all get something out of this process: The people and causes they’re trying to help stand to gain the most.

Asking the following questions may help you frame up the process and develop a compelling case for taking on this work:

  • Is it clear to all key stakeholders why improving our collective impact is central to our strategy? If not, what can be done to increase clarity and buy-in?
  • Are the right people committed to prioritizing this effort for the network?  How can we ensure they are fully engaged?
  • Are there other benefits we hope to gain from this process, and if so, are we setting the process up to maximize the chances of achieving our multiple objectives?  Potential additional benefits beyond collective improvement include:
    • Growth.  If growth is an objective, it’s worth considering that in the short-term, this process can actually lead to scaling back a bit in areas where the assessment helps you realize you’re not having the impact you desire. That said, the process will often position a network for stronger growth, in terms of both reach and impact, in the long-term.
    • Increased alignment on network objectives.  Building a strong, collaborative process can absolutely help to increase alignment around, and input into, network objectives.   Be prepared for some natural evolution, and improvement, of the objectives as you go.
    • Better documentation of outcomes. While this process focuses on impact and improving outcomes, it is no replacement for the kinds of systems often required to thoroughly monitor and track activities and outcomes.  It’s important not to lose sight of this crucial distinction.
    • Informing resource allocation decisions. We believe that improving resource allocation is one of the key benefits of this process.

Case Study: Boys and Girls Clubs of America

Consider the experience of Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), a federated network whose mission is to "enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.” From 1998 to 2008, under the leadership of CEO Roxanne Spillett, BGCA doubled in size, expanding from 1,800 to 4,000 sites and broadening its reach to four million youth, in part by entering traditionally underserved communities such as rural areas, military bases, Native American lands, and public housing. BGCA accomplished this growth both independently and through partnerships, and as the work was moving forward, Spillett and her colleagues began to set their sights on changing the way the Clubs thought about, and assessed, progress. Read more>>

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The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.