It drives me nuts!

People in our sector use jargon all the time to talk about strategy…

‘We’ve got a strategic plan.’ ‘We have four strategic priorities.’ ‘We’re doing a strategic consultation process with our stakeholders’.

My problem with all this strategy-babble is that it’s usually NOT strategic at all!

Now, when it comes to strategy, I’m a very lucky guy. My first career was in politics. I was a campaign director – and learned my craft from some absolutely brilliant strategic mentors. Here’s some of what I learned – and apply now in my philanthropic consulting work.

First and foremost, a strategy is a single idea that can be expressed in ONE SENTENCE. Your strategy simply defines your win and offers the reason that you’ll achieve it. That’s it. Nothing more.

Let me give you an example:

I’m a man. I used to play football. It was my favourite sport – and I’m still passionate about it. Now, the National Football League is the most popular sport in North America. Its audience is 80% male. In many households across North America, men spend Sunday afternoons in the basement, beer in hand, scratching themselves, farting and letting out the occasional WHOOP when their team scores a touchdown.

This October, the NFL on television looked kind of funny. You see pink everywhere. Referees in pink caps. Players wearing pink wristbands, gloves and shoes. Pink first down markers. Pink logos at centre field. Why in the male-refuge of NFL football do we see these 300-pound hulks in pink?

All that pink is there because the American Cancer Society came up with a really smart strategy…

Breast Cancer is typically thought of as a women’s disease – just as prostate cancer is typically thought of as a man’s disease. The folks at ACS came up with a simple strategy – which I see like this:

ACS will diversify its donor base by attracting more men to give.

There it is. There’s a strategy – and a smart one at that.

Now we move to the tactical side. Tactics are the THINGS YOU DO to bring your strategy to life. Strategy comes first – and tactics follow. Tactics are the HOW you achieve your strategy.

So, what are the tactics involved in the ACS ‘get more men’ strategy?

  1. Find a male audience. (The NFL on TV.)
  2. Focus a campaign time and concentrate visibility. (Breast cancer month is October.)
  3. Use a simple visual to brand the campaign. (Pink everywhere.)
  4. Transmit the message that supporting breast cancer is a manly act. (340-pound defensive linemen adorned in pink accessories!).

Strategy is simple. But it’s often far from easy. Perhaps that’s why so many of us shy away from what it really takes to create a good one.

Here are a few more examples of (what I think are) brilliant strategies that worked big time:

  • Disney’s strategy is to create the magic of childhood.
  • Apple’s strategy is to move beyond computers and dominate the market for handheld communications/entertainment devices.
  • World Vision’s strategy is to create one-to-one relationships through child sponsorships.
  • Prostate Cancer’s strategy is to generate visibility and buzz with its Movember moustache campaign each November.

So this month’s tip is simply this:

  1. Write down your organization’s strategy. And remember, it can only be ONE SENTENCE long!
  2. Once you’ve decided on your strategy, and then write down the tactics that will move your strategy in the direction of your goal.
  3. Turn your tactics into measurable outcomes that will direct your activities and the allocation of resources.
  4. Finally, do next year’s budget – but make sure that it’s directed entirely by your strategy.

Strategy isn’t rocket science. But good strategy does require a level of focus and discipline that I’m afraid most of us just don’t have in our sector right now. So go ahead – shake things up. Become a strategic champion in your organization. And let me know how it goes!

This article originally appeared at Hilborn: the leading provider of information to Canada’s nonprofit sector.