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How to Ask the Right Questions About Nonprofit Strategy

Do you feel you know the right questions to ask about your nonprofit’s strategy?  Do you know what that strategy is?  Molly Penn of Penn Flood Consulting spends her day advising nonprofits on strategy and governance.  This week, in her guest post for BoardAssist, she has provided six great strategy questions every board member should consider.  We are grateful for your input Molly!


How to Ask the Right Questions About Nonprofit Strategy

Do you feel you know the right questions to ask about your nonprofit’s strategy?  Do you know what that strategy is?

Because nonprofits have a dual bottom-line they exist not only to be self-sustaining (or even profitable!), but also to have a mission impact, whether it’s human service or education or building a vibrant society through the arts.  So how can you ask the right questions, both to help you understand your nonprofit’s strategy, and to help others in the organization stay focused on the most important things? 

Here are some questions you might ask.

    1. Where are we going and why? – Is your organization able to clearly and succinctly articulate its future direction and does it have a well-developed rationale for this development?  Nonprofits should grow not simply to make more profit, but to get better at having a mission impact.
    2. What is the need we are addressing and how is it changing? – The “need” for our organizations often feels vague, or is not discussed enough.  It is important to understand the need – and ensure that everything you do is working to address that need in some way.  It is also important to keep in touch with how that need might be changing or evolving as our society changes and evolves.
    3. Who else is out there addressing this need and what do we offer that is different or better? – As with any business, it is important to understand the colleague or competitor organizations that are addressing the same need.  Do you overlap with them? Do you serve different constituencies?  Do you do it differently or better in some way?
    4. Do we know what it will take to get where we are going? – Does your organization have a clear picture of the resources (human, technological and financial) it will take to get where you are going? In the nonprofit environment, where much depends on philanthropic support, it is vital that the priorities of current and potential funders are generally aligned with your core purpose.   Has your organization done financial projections to accompany its strategy to ensure it is realistic?
    5. Are we having the impact we want to have? – Does your organization make a regular practice of monitoring how it is achieving its impact?  Too often, strategic plans are measured by asking “did we do what we said we would do?” rather than “did our actions produce the impact we intended?”
    6. Is our strategy still relevant? –We declare strategy at a moment in time, and then begin to implement it.  But the world around us continues to change and evolve.  We must make a practice of checking in on whether our strategy remains relevant – and if it is not, it should change.  Strategic plans are not static – they should change and evolve as the needs change and evolve.

Try asking these questions at your next board meeting – you will not only better inform yourself about your organization’s strategy, you will help everyone in the room stay focused on the most important issues.


With over 25 years experience in the nonprofit sector Molly Penn is a recognized expert in strategic planning, organizational and board development, and executive coaching. As a facilitator, Molly is known for her ability to synthesize complex ideas and lead groups toward consensus. Molly works extensively with nonprofit boards and is adept at helping them more effectively govern organizations and strengthen group dynamics. Before becoming a consultant, Molly worked at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Actors Studio, and the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. Molly has an M.B.A. in Management from Fordham University, an M.F.A. in Arts Management from Columbia University, and a B.A. in Dance from Bard College.