Framework for writing a strategic plan for a charity or social enterprise

Here is a framework to help charities, nonprofit organisations and social enterprises to write their strategic plans. It focuses on ‘writing’ the plan rather than the strategic planning process which consists of workshops, conversations, strategic exercises and desktop research.

There is no correct format for a strategic plan. This framework sets out my thoughts on strategic plans and my preferred method of writing them. These insights stem from decades of working with such plans.

You must choose a format that works for you and your organisation. Some organisations will pick the bits that enable them to write a concise plan of under 10 pages, whereas larger and more complex organisations might choose to respond to all the prompts, and write a more comprehensive plan of 20 pages.

Treat this article like a menu and use whatever parts of this framework make sense to you. Adapt or discard the remainder. This framework is detailed so that it can offer you an array of choices.

‘Heroes’ versus ‘programmers’: two common archetypes of entrepreneurs

There tend to be two types of entrepreneurs that I encounter in my consulting work. There are those that strive to be in the middle of the action and build their organisations around them. Then there are those who strive to build their organisations to be separate from themselves like a piece of software.

Nowadays I think of these dichotomous archetypes as ‘heroes’ versus ‘programmers’. Framing them in a positive light makes this model more useful and easier to communicate.

This article explores these archetypes, considers when they are an asset or liability, and reflects on what we might learn from them.

The likely impact of the cost of living crisis in the United Kingdom on charities and social enterprises and what they can do about it

The ‘cost of living crisis’ refers to the rapid inflation of core essential goods and services that constitute a sizable proportion of household budgets in the UK. Its impact will be especially severe among low-income households who tend to rely on social grants. These households are likely to experience greater debt and poverty. The government is scrambling to limit the fallout. The cost of living crisis has afflicted the UK since late 2021 but has recently gained more media attention as its consequences become evident.

This article focuses on the likely consequences of this crisis for charities and social enterprises. It also suggests six sets of tactics that organisations might use to survive this crisis, become more resilient and increase their impact.

Strategy & social enterprise glossary

We’ve designed this glossary to help social enterprises and non-profit organizations in South Africa think clearly about their strategies and business models.

Strategic clarity involves clear thinking, and clear thinking requires clarity of language. Many of us also rely too much on jargon, which clutters our minds and encourages lazy and fuzzy thinking.

Here is some of the terminology that I regularly use in my consulting practice and lectures, and my short descriptions of what each term means in simple English.

The OODA loop can help your organization to become more adaptable

The OODA loop is a mental model that can help organizations to adapt to changes in our environment. It explains how we observe our surroundings, orient ourselves, make appropriate decisions and act accordingly.

This model is especially useful for leaders who want their organizations to thrive in our interconnected world where unforeseen events appear rapidly on the horizon. Recent events, including the Covid pandemic and riots, have caused devastation in South Africa. These events impacted our organizations and our lives. The future is unpredictable and has more surprises in store for us.

I have closely observed which organizations have been able to adapt to shifts in their environment versus those that have floundered. Those that successfully adapted were able to cycle effectively through their OODA loops.

This article explains the OODA loop and shares tactics that organizations can use to become better at defending against threats and unlocking opportunities that emerge through changes and shifts in our environment.

This article is a long read of approximately one hour for the average reader. I wrote it intermittently over the span of a year and a half during South Africa’s ‘lockdown’ due to the pandemic. The examples I cite will reflect my work in the field of socio-economic development, as well as my interest in history and military science, which is where I came upon the OODA loop. Nevertheless, the insights will also apply to leaders of all organizations.

Tool for mapping the business model of your non-profit organization or social enterprise

A business model is the unique recipe that an organization uses to earn income and serve its customers and beneficiaries (or participants in the case of a non-profit organization or social enterprise). A business model typically describes what an organization is offering its customers and beneficiaries, as well as its inputs, processes and method of earning income and profits.

Business models design is about configuring the building blocks of an organization so that it is feasible (can work) and viable (can sustain itself).

It is not uncommon for entrepreneurs to play around with different configurations for their organizations until such time as they find one that works.

When unpacking complex and multi-dimensional business models, I prefer to adopt a relationship-orientated approach where I examine all the different parties that are involved in an organization and how they will work together. Only then do I dive into its inner technical workings such as its activities, financial model and legal structures.

Here is a tool that closely resembles the types of questions that I ask social businesses and non-profit organizations when I start to unpack their complex business models. I hope this tool will assist you to interrogate your own business models.

Five ways for a non-profit organization to earn more income

Last week, a new client asked me the following question, “How can we earn more income and gain more control over how we can spend it?”

This resulted in a productive and impactful discussion. I thought it would be useful to share the highlights with you, and link to other articles and presentations that explain some of the principles in more depth.

Non-profit organizations need to increase their income, and have more control over how this money can be spent, in order to increase their social and environmental impact, and to reduce their financial risk. This is all part of becoming a sustainable non-profit organization.

Inductive and deductive reasoning can help us to solve complex strategic and social problems

Strategy emerges from how we think about the complex problems facing our organizations. These problems might relate to our environment, the challenges faced by our beneficiaries or something inside our organization. To become better at developing strategies, we must learn how to think more clearly and avoid cognitive biases.

My ability to think strategically has benefited immensely from understanding the differences between inductive and deductive reasoning, and understanding when and how to apply them. Inductive reasoning involves ‘bottom up thinking’ – constructing theories from details. In contrast, deductive reasoning involves ‘top down thinking’ – starting with a theory and assuming details that must be true if the theory is valid.

We all have our preferences for one of these types of reasoning when solving complex problems that affect organizations and communities. Nevertheless, it is beneficial to master both types of reasoning so that we can use them when the need arises.

This article summarizes what I have learned so far while diving into this topic. It is a detailed and technical article that will interest people who want to enhance how they use reasoning to solve problems.

Does your organization have FOGO?

Now that the lockdown in South Africa has started to lift, I’m noticing how many people are struggling with FOGO – an acronym for ‘Fear of Going Out’. 

They have established a safe bubble during lockdown, and are anxious about venturing out and confronting the turbulent world that awaits them. This tendency seems to be the antithesis of FOMO, which we all know as the ‘Fear of Missing Out’.

This article explores the characteristics of FOGO in organizations, and what you, as a leader, can do about it.

I encourage leaders to realize that their organizations must venture out before it’s too late. The cost of inaction may be irreversible. This unusual moment will come to an end, sooner rather than later, and we will all have to enter the uncertain world outside.

Summary of four project budgeting methods

A month ago I wrote an article on the four methods for developing project budgets which I’ve seen non-profit organizations use in South Africa. I believe its best to be adaptable and have all these methods in your project budgeting ‘toolkit’.

This 1-page Strategy Brief summaries these four methods. There is a link to the full article at the bottom of this Brief.

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