Over 20 years of helping United Ways with their strategic planning has taught me many lessons. For example, it is nearly impossible to predict the future, so developing a strategic plan for more than the next three years is merely guessing at what the future holds. More recently, I have learned the lesson of jumping vs. leaping.
Take a moment and picture yourself jumping. What does it look like when you jump? When I picture myself jumping, I am jumping as high in the air as I can, which admittedly is not very high and most certainly proves the point that “White Men Can’t Jump.” For those of you too young to get this 1992 reference – check this out.
Now, picture yourself leaping. What does it look like when you leap? When I picture myself leaping, I am taking a big leap forward, like playing hopscotch and going from square 1 to square 12 in a single leap. When I think about myself jumping and leaping, they look different to me. Jumping is more of an up-and-down type of motion, while leaping is more of a directional motion starting in one spot and landing in another spot.
When I look at the strategic planning done by United Ways, I see a lot of jumping and very little leaping. Most United Ways develop a “jumping” strategic plan, where all of the focus is on trying to jump higher. A jumping strategic plan normally includes goals such as increasing the amount of money raised from campaign, increasing the number of donors, increasing the number of volunteer hours – you get the idea. United Ways that are jumping are doing what they have always done, but trying to take it to a new level, i.e. jumping higher. Jumping can be a very good thing if what you are doing is what needs to be done, and doing more of it is the desired outcome.
United Ways that are leaping develop a strategic plan that moves their United Way from where they are today to a different place in the future. A “leaping” strategic plan means that United Way will be in a different place three years from now – they are not standing still. In a leaping strategic plan there are new strategies, a changing focus to impact-driven results, different investments, and new measures of success. United Ways that are leaping are changing what they are doing, to achieve different results and outcomes.
A common question I hear when I facilitate planning retreats for United Way boards is “Are we relevant?” If you know your United Way is relevant, then you should probably be jumping. If you are relevant, do more of what you are doing. However, if you are not sure you are relevant, or if you know you are no longer as relevant as you once were, then you should leap. Becoming relevant will only happen if you leap and move your United Way forward to a different spot three years from now.
We believe that most United Ways need to take a leap forward at this point in time. In fact, we no longer do strategic planning for United Ways that want to jump – we only help United Ways who want to leap. Our strategic planning focus is helping United Ways identify what direction to leap, what strategies will be necessary to make the leap, and planning for the change and transformation necessary to successfully leap to that new spot. Check out our information about an issue focus, developing your issue focus, and strategic planning to learn more.
Strategic planning is critical to the long-term success of every United Way. It is all too easy to get consumed in day-to-day tasks, which means it is essential to make time to think about the future of your United Way. Consider questions like “Are we relevant?” and “Should we be jumping or leaping?” with your board and staff at least once a year, if not more often, and develop your strategic plan accordingly.