In 2004, TCC Group published a briefing paper entitled, “Ten Keys to Successful Strategic Planning for Nonprofit and Foundation Leaders.” The philanthropic landscape has continued to evolve since then, and TCC has benefited from ten years of additional work designing and facilitating funder planning projects.
Drawing on our client work in the intervening decade, TCC Group staff have identified important key factors that help foundations overcome unique challenges, provide strategic clarity, and chart a successful path forward. In our latest briefing paper, “Ten Keys – Ten Years Later: Successful Strategic Planning for Foundation Leaders,” we discuss 10 factors that can help funders thrive in today’s philanthropic landscape.
What we have observed is that while the fundamentals of strategic planning remain constant, two elements in particular have changed in the past decade. The first is the focus of the planning effort, which has shifted from the foundation to the social ecosystem in which the foundation is embedded (see Key #5). Ten years ago, a foundation, particularly a private one, could comfortably plan its strategy with its own needs and interests as its primary frame of reference. In today’s environment, with increasing pressure from within and beyond foundations to demonstrate greater impact, an inward focus is no longer a tenable default position. Funders need to understand how their strategies interact with, complement, or counter the strategies of other actors in the space — before choosing or adjusting their own path. Relevant questions for foundation leaders include: What is the role of partnerships in advancing our strategies? Who owns the strategies we seek to advance? Which of our goals are best pursued in coalition, and how able are we to work in that way?
The other element of strategic planning that has evolved in the past decade, and is reflected in a shift in the ten keys presented here, is the relative importance of non-grantmaking roles in the strategy equation (see Key #8). At least since Paul Ylvisaker’s classic article “Small Can Be Effective” more than 25 years ago, funders have been aware of the many tactics “beyond the grant” that are available in pursuit of strategy, such as research, convening, advocacy, and capacity building. What is different in today’s ecosystem context, referenced above, is that non-grantmaking activities take on a more prominent role in the programmatic mix. We see more funders asking themselves, “How can we play a leadership role in our field? How can we make the case for our issues with government and the general public? How can we use our convening power and the information we possess to deepen our impact?” Strategic planning has evolved to reflect the relatively greater importance of non-grantmaking roles in an ecosystem context.