On October 10, 2018 a panel of experts tackled key issues surrounding strategic positioning at the 14th annual SobelCo Nonprofit Symposium.

They all agreed that it is typical for leaders to get caught in the “weeds” – spending time executing tasks and addressing immediate challenges and issues as they arise. After all, who isn’t distracted by having a fire to put out every day?

It is much more difficult to take a step back and think ahead to the next three to five years in order to consider the best strategy to adopt to guide the organization to accomplish its mission.

Yet, the leaders with a strong vision for the future are in a better position to set goals and establish guidelines. We cannot foresee the future but it is important to look ahead, to ask colleagues to share insights, and to create a plan to address a constantly changing world.

Those in attendance at this annual event heard from seasoned professionals in the nonprofit area who have had experiences leveraging a strategic plan and approach. Everyone learned something new as they shared their successes, and some of their failures, when positioning their organizations for short and long term sustainability through a combination of agility, passion, leadership and vision.

Under the guidance of moderator and facilitator, Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the panel focused on five essential pillars:

  • Development - Helen LeFrois, JBWS (Jersey Battered Women's Service)
  • Marketing and Branding - Monica C. Smith, Marketsmith
  • Financial - Bridget Hartnett, Sobel & Co.
  • Governance - Michael Davidson, Board Coach
  • Change Management - Frank Abdale, Support Center

Some of their most critical observations included:

  • Articulate a vision, define your mission on a day to day basis, state your values, analyze your internal/external environment and then set your goals (both aspirational and practical) and strategies
  • Carefully integrate all facets of the organization under one seamless umbrella, from governance to fundraising to programming to marketing to finance
  • Understand your financial situation including costs benefits, budgeting, reserve funds, liquidity, and sustainability in the long game
  • Focus on strategy at board meetings to fully leverage your board members; make sure they never lose the connection to your mission
  • Ask yourself if you are preserving a program or advancing a mission; is the program or service you are supporting core to your mission?
  • Don’t overlook the critical importance of your people; successful organizations rely on great people
  • Build a culture of philanthropy – understand the interests of your donors, show them the impact; demonstrate that you are a worthwhile investment

Carlos Rodriguez shaped the conversation, drawing on the insights of the panelists, to create ameaningful morning for all.

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