NGOs and Strategic Planning – The Groan Factor

In an era increasingly characterised by intense competition for donors funds, experienced and qualified Team members and cutting edge partnerships, it remains something of a surprise that many NGOs remain lethargic about the way in which they address and formulate ‘strategy’. In response to dynamic environments, far too many NGOs focus on calendar driven ‘strategy exercises’ which ‘tick the box’ in terms of – (i) a reaffirmation of Vision and Mission (tick), (ii) the regulation SWOT exercise (tick), and, (iii) budgeting based on spend rather than income (tick). The five year plan is then written, reaffirms the status quo (although will often pay lip service to ‘change management’ across an entire organisation) and is then filed away to be brought out of the bottom drawer in another five years. The relative marginalisation within ‘development’ which NGOs have undoubtedly experienced over the last decade is, I feel, in part due to the fact that their approach to strategy is so very poor – usually undertaken with no engagement of rigorous strategy tools such as Porter’s Five Forces, Hamel and Prahalad’s approach to core competencies, as well as Rumelt’s era defining strategy tool. Why NGOs have been so slow to evolve their approaches to strategy is something of a mystery - but their failure to do so, while retaining their faith in outdated, calendar-driven tools, will continue to result in their marginalisation within ‘development’ circles?