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10 Steps to Rapid Strategy Implementation

Most nonprofit strategies fail in their implementation. But if you follow these 10 steps, you can rapidly implement your new strategic plan. Want more great news? They don't cost a dime!

In last week's installment, I shared my five reasons why strategic plans rarely get implemented. I also promised to share with you 10 steps to implement anything quickly — whether it's implementing your new strategy or your kitchen remodel. Whether you are anticipating a strategy refresh, in the midst of strategic planning, or dusting off your old strategic plan, read on!

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Step 1. Choose Your Top Implementation Priorities

Most nonprofits skip this step, but it's the most important. Brainstorm the top three to five priorities — the things that absolutely need to happen next — in order to implement your strategy. I'm talking about the top priorities for your entire organization, not each individual's own priorities. If you don't have clarity about your top implementation priorities, your strategic plan either won't get implemented or it will take three times as long. It's that simple.

Step 2. Assign Priority Champions

For each priority, pick a person who will be responsible for it. This person does not need to do everything, but they need to make sure a specific priority is achieved. And they need to be held accountable.

Step 3. Tell Everyone

Every single person at every level of your organization, be it your volunteer coordinator, CFO, case manager, or office assistant, needs to know the top implementation priorities. Write them down on easel paper and hang up copies in the conference room, in the hallways, and in the lunchroom. Everyone needs to keep these priorities top of mind because everyone has a role in implementing them.

Step 4. Give Each Priority Its Own Punch List

Ask priority champions to create a list of the top 5 – 10 most important things that need to happen next for their priority. For each item add a deadline. Keep it simple. It needn't be a full-blown work plan or Gantt chart. In fact, at this stage, such a plan would be unrealistic and would slow things down.

Step 5. Help Everyone Understand Their Role

Other than your priority champions, who else needs to be involved? Tackling a new issue might involve your team working together in new ways. For example, your development director might be accountable for your top priority to dramatically diversify fund development, but she needs to involve the program manager, the finance team, the communications director, the receptionist, and so forth.

Step 6. Review Progress with Your Entire Team

Ask priority champions to regularly share progress with everyone. Staff meetings are a great place to do this. Top implementation priorities should be the first agenda item at every meeting. Priority champions bring their lists and update everyone on progress. That holds them accountable and lets your team troubleshoot and solve problems together. This should happen at least biweekly to start.

Step 7. Identify Supporters and Resisters

Strategy implementation involves change. Some on your team will enthusiastically embrace the change. Harness their enthusiasm and engage their leadership. Some will resist. Help them see how it's in their self-interest to get on board. Sometimes your strongest resisters can become your staunchest allies.

Step 8. Move Quickly

The quicker you can begin implementing your strategic plan, the more momentum you will gain. The more momentum you gain, the quicker everyone gets on board (including the resisters) and the faster you achieve results. Think of implementation as a series of short sprints, not a marathon.

Step 9. Make Hard Decisions

Sometimes the new strategy is simply not the right fit for members of your team. There might be people who can't or don't want to get on board. Successful strategy implementation might call for a parting of ways. This is OK. People should experience joy in their work, and you can help them find the next opportunity that best aligns to their passions.

Step 10. Celebrate Success

Just as you share the top priorities and implementation progress with your whole team, regularly share successes. These can be big accomplishments (we created our first communications plan!), wonky wins (woo-hoo, we recoded our CRM system!), and tiny victories (frontline staff now only spend one hour a week completing paperwork instead of four). Everyone will appreciate being appreciated.


About the Author

Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy advisor, strategist, and award-winning author. Her latest book is Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change And What They Can Do To Transform Giving. Learn more at

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