In 2018, the Westside Infant-Family Network (WIN) received $16 million to aid their efforts to increase trauma resilience across west-central and south Los Angeles. WIN is a nonprofit network comprised of eight agency partners established in 2006 to provide mental health resources to families with generational mental health challenges. At first glance, an unknowing onlooker might never know that WIN came from humble beginnings. But, when they started, WIN faced inconsistent and unpredictable results and nearly disbanded altogether due to network disagreement.
WIN is the successful and growing nonprofit network because of its excellent internal change management efforts. For example, when metrics on inconsistent patient results emerged, WIN responded by analyzing the findings and responsively restricting funds to in-home case management. Although this change was controversial, and several original partners left the network, this change was necessary for the long-term success of the network. When WIN found itself constricted due to operating under a fiscal agent, the network responded by attaining a 501(c)(3)–a legal designation for nonprofits in the US. This change led to more funding and shifted the entire governance structure of the network for the better.
Time and time again, WIN was faced with challenges and forced to respond to change. And, time and time again, they capitalized on this opportunity to make their nonprofit better. Flux is a natural part of any successful enterprise. Managing change can be pivotal for the success or failure of a nonprofit network. WIN is a prime example of how certain key adaptation practices and an understanding of change can turn a novice, emerging network into a practiced and impactful network.
But, not all change is equal. Networks change sometimes impacts the network as a whole and sometimes only influences a few member organizations. Choosing the correct change response for the circumstances is key to success. In their book, Networks for Social Impact, Michelle Shumate and Katherine R. Cooper present a decision tree to address this divergence of change type and how to respond with an aligning change management technique. In this blog, the NNSI team will focus on the first of Shumate and Cooper’s change management strategies: Strategic Planning for Networks.
Shumate and Cooper’s decision tree of change and appropriate response:
- Strategic Planning for Networks
Following the decision tree, Networks should use Strategic Planning when the change will impact the network as a whole and where the change may result in the network changing its identity, core activities, or disbanding altogether.
In cases where change threatens the entire foundation of a network, leaders can respond through strategic planning. The strategic planning process begins by taking stock of the current state of the network: where they currently are, where they want to be, and what steps to take to achieve their long-term network goals. Typically, this planning process evolves in the five distinct steps outlined by the infographic below.
Expanding upon this infographic, we will take a closer look at each step.
Step 1: Prepare to plan
Networks must do some preparation before implementing any form of adequate strategic planning. There are three primary “ducks” a network must get “in line” before starting the planning process. Networks must:
Step 2: Gather the necessary information and evaluate your assumptions
In this step, networks further lay the foundation for strategic action by asking themselves several critical and challenging questions about the best way to proceed. These questions include:
Step 3: Prioritize the strategic issues that the network faces
If the network completes Step 2 and decides not to disband, it must work to identify which problems are most pressing in its area. A network with sound strategic planning will choose one or two challenges to address. Characteristic problems include:
Step 4: Identify possible strategies, decide, and act
Once a network’s problems are identified and selected, it is finally time for the network to strategize how to solve such problems. Then, the network acts must act on this plan. An essential aspect of Strategic Planning is that the strategy implemented will adjust to the specific problem being addressed. For example, a network might apply for a foundational grant when facing the problem of a funding shift, but a network might call a stakeholder meeting when facing the problem of a network split.
Step 5: Evaluate results, and perhaps try again
Finally, leaders must evaluate the results of the plan. No strategy or plan is full-proof, and even when successful, other residual problems may remain unaddressed. Strategic Planning leadership is tasked with assessing their successes (and failures) after an agreed-upon period, and, if necessary, implementing a new plan(s) until the network agrees that the problem, in its entirety, has been solved.
Overall, strategic planning offers a comprehensive five-step process to address radical change in goal-directed networks. Radical change can shift the very foundation of a nonprofit network and potentially wipe them clear off the map. Employing this method helps networks clear away the smaller issues and focus on addressing the larger problem.