I’m really excited to share the details behind The Nonprofit Strategy Tango with you in this post.  When I first started my consulting practice I assumed that doing strategic planning work meant always doing customized work for each client. Even so, I really wanted to figure out a way to make my services more scalable (defined by Webster’s as “capable of being scaled; capable of being easily expanded or upgraded on demand”).  I started by defining some repetitive steps and milestones in every strategic planning process.  I also took into account the realities and constraints that nonprofit Executive Directors and board members face in running their organizations.  They may need strategic planning, but they also need an efficient and cost effective process to make the best use of the resources they already have and hope to have in the future.

I also worked with Courtney Johnston from The Rulebreaker’s Club to refine what she calls the “offer”.  I met Courtney at a Washtenaw Women’s Exchange conference (an amazing annual Forum in October!).  Courtney works with small business owners to create their offers or sales pages, but more importantly she helped me think really hard about scale and how to create an offer that my specific customers really need. Her process helped me explain my own process in a way that hopefully makes it easy to say YES! to working with me.  (I would recommend working with Courtney in a heartbeat, BTW. I learned so much just going through her process and seeing how many steps she was able to both personalize AND automate with great results.)

So, here are the details of what I am calling The Nonprofit Strategy Tango (with reasons for choosing this name explained in my last post).  There are 3 phases:

  • PHASE 1 | The Nonprofit Strategy Jumpstart
  • PHASE 2 | Creating YOUR Strategic Plan (includes a 6 step, full strategic planning process)
  • PHASE 3 | Thriving Nonprofit Aftercare

PHASE 1 | The Nonprofit Strategy Jumpstart

In this step I created an online assessment and collaborative self-study tool to help nonprofit Executive Directors and board members get ready for strategic planning.  I based the online assessment off of the Michigan Nonprofit Association’s Principles & Practices tool which is a tool they provide to their members for use in a variety of settings.  This tool takes about 30 minutes to complete and is very comprehensive. I streamlined some of the redundancies, updated a few references, and converted it from a 58 page pdf to an online tool using Google Forms. The questions address a variety of important topics in nonprofit administration from communication, governance, financial management, evaluation, fundraising, and more.

Once board members and staffers complete the survey, I tabulate the results and break my observations and recommendations into 4 areas that apply to each of the 12 subsections (like communications, fundraising, governance, etc.)

Strategy Jumpstart Recommendations

  1. Strengths
  2. Realities
  3. Risks
  4. To Do’s




This assessment process is designed to provide an efficient and comprehensive look at where the organization is today so that the strategic planning process starts with the realities of the current situation. It also identifies some key areas that will eventually end up in the goals, objectives and strategies of the final strategic plan if the organization chooses to advance to the next step which is Phase 2 . . .


Although no strategic planning process is linear, I have defined 6 steps or milestones that must be covered if strategic planning is to become a thorough and useful process.

Phase 2: 6 step strategic planning process

  1. Understanding the Situation:  Here we  identify the key trends in your internal and external environment that are most impacting your ability to meet and exceed your mission. This includes things like how you run the organization (board meetings, human resources, financial oversight) to how your organization reacts to what’s happening in the world at large.
  2. Considering Mission Impact & Financial Sustainability: To get specific, this step uses a model from a book called Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Sustainability by Bell, Masaoka, and Zimmerman.  I love to use this model with clients because it helps to get at whether or not their programs are structured to have mission impact AND financial sustainability.Mission Impact and Financial Sustainability
  3. Generating Your Adaptive Alternatives (aka goals and objectives): This is the expansive step where we brainstorm all of the possible strategic options that could achieve your goals. Saying “no” to some strategies that you won’t be pursuing is also an important part of this step so that your organization remains focused in the future.
  4. Reaching Initial Decision & Consensus: Here we’ll look at the strategies generated from step 3 and actually choose the strategies that will be the most impactful and are in alignment with your nonprofit’s mission and vision. This step is important before building out all of the details in the next step.
  5. Clarifying the How, When, and Who  (aka adding strategies and tactics to goals and objectives): This is when we build out the plan that determines exactly how your organization will reach its goals.
  6. Allocating Resources and Measuring Success: Including this final step ensures that you have all of the tools and resources you need in terms of time, money, and people to implement your plan. What gets measured gets managed. This is where we establish concrete milestones and metrics to measure your progress.

At the end of these 6 steps, the goal is to have a strategic plan that you’ll feel really good about implementing.  


This phase is designed for clients who have successfully created their own strategic plan or who desire follow-up after the strategic planning process is “over” (although planning is never really over).  There are various options to check in with me on a periodic, quarterly, or semiannual basis.  Think of this phase as regular doses of accountability and dedicated time to be responsive rather than reactive only when problems arise.

So, that’s the The Nonprofit Strategy Tango. I’d love to hear what you think of it so far or if you can think of anything I missed. Email me at stephanie@adaptivealt.com if you have feedback. I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Is your organization ready for a change?

Stephanie Blackburn Freeth is the creator of The Strategy Tango.


The Strategy Tango is designed to move through seven tried and true planning steps while also accommodating the unique needs of your organization in each moment.


The Strategy Tango process is built upon a foundation of collaboration, candor, and focus.

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