“Leonard Fuld…the undisputed dean of competitive intelligence.”
– Fast Company
Competition exists in the nonprofit arena, just as it does in the for-profit world. Social entrepreneurs who work in the same arena often compete for limited resources. Learning about your nonprofit competitors and their strategies can inform your approach to the market and improve how you serve that market. To ignore your competition or to fail to learn from their successes can make you less relevant to your clients and funders. Funders want to support savvy nonprofits who look outside themselves, who recognize social and technological changes, and who respond with improved services.
The strategy exercises we run are fundamentally qualitative. One of the workshop’s important goals is for participants to understand why funders or nonprofits behave the way they do. Knowing another organization’s intent, biases, and plans to pursue its mission are key to crafting any successful long-term strategy. While we incorporate numerous data sources into each workshop, war games are not computer driven. Algorithms and large data pools will not deliver the underlying reasons why one nonprofit succeeds while another limps along. A well-constructed, well-researched, structured roleplay helps explain the dynamics among nonprofits that can give them an edge over other organizations.
Typically, any of the strategy games we facilitate do not lead to an I-win-you-lose outcome. We deliver realistic exercises that try to make sense of large and often complicated world where nonprofits and funders encounter many forces, a complex set of client needs, as well as many ways to deliver services. These workshops will lead participants through their complicated world and help them make sense of it. The ultimate victory will be a coherent, resilient strategy that can help a nonprofit build its capacity or deliver improved services to its clients.
An organization’s senior executives and its board must drive the need for the workshop, participate in it, as well as work to help execute the plan that results. Any strategic exercise simply signed off by senior management and offloaded to other staff members is an exercise that will waste everyone’s time. While we use the word “game,” our strategy workshops are serious business that help a nonprofit or a funder map out its near-term or long-term future. Senior executives should invite key staff and volunteers to participate. At the same time, the organization’s leaders need to invest the time and the thinking needed to make the workshop effective.
While some workshops can involve outside experts, most simulations are closed-door events. In addition to board members and executives, you want each team to include participants with different perspective and the knowhow necessary to shape and argue the best counter-strategy possible. The people with expertise might include those who deal with social media marketing, donor relations or development, operations, finance, and other departments. Each team should become its own mini-nonprofit filled with different viewpoints and experiences. A successful strategy exercise is one where you capture a nonprofit’s full richness and complexity. That can only happen when the workshop includes staff and volunteers representing different areas of knowledge.
A strategic opportunity workshop is a snapshot of present conditions but can help you examine your market and your competition up to two or three years into the future.
Your board members will stress test its strategic assumptions, identify biases, and uncover weak points in its plans. They can use a blind spots exercise as a precursor to a war game, or simply as a standalone workshop. It gives your board “permission” to have uncomfortable but critical conversations about your organization’s future direction. A blind spots exercise is a half-day to one-day workshop. It is a perfect activity for a board room retreat.
To run a successful war game or strategy exercise, you need detailed information and analysis about other nonprofits, societal trends, and external forces that shape your universe. You need to bring the outside world in. Social entrepreneurs often lead an intense, dedicated existence. They are focused on the day-to-day delivery of services and fulfilling client needs. Such intensity often comes at the expense of outside knowledge, knowledge about competition, and changing conditions. The briefing books we prepare for workshops include details on social trends, demographic shifts, organization profiles, and review of regulatory changes.
Preparation for a strategic opportunity workshop can take one to three months. The workshop itself is ordinarily a two-day event, including follow up discussions and analysis. We prepare and conduct most of the research and expert/stakeholder interviewing off-site in advance of the workshop. Part of this preparation is the creation of a detailed briefing book. Teams study this material in preparation for game day.
No one can predict the future. What scenario analysis can do is identify strategic imperatives that the institution will need to consider in its future strategy no matter what the future will look like. A scenario analysis exercise helps future-proof a strategy to make it more resilient and more likely to withstand any sort of potential market shock or societal shift.
Scenario analysis examines uncertainties. Using those uncertainties, participants develop stories of the future. Those stories can help define the boundaries of possible future worlds that you may encounter 10 or 20 years from today. In contrast, a war game focuses on specific players in today’s market and how they could behave in the current marketplace, and near future.
As with a competitive simulation, we will also need a couple of months to research and prepare for a scenario analysis exercise. Where scenario analysis is different from a competitive simulation is the length of time it takes to run. Instead of a typical two-day competitive simulation workshop, scenario analysis involves a series of workshops and presentations over a period of months. Between each workshop, participants will have to review various outputs from the prior session and help facilitators refine the information, findings and stories before moving on to the next stage. Altogether, a scenario analysis exercise can span a half-year.
It is a detailed, practical plan, the product of either a short-term competitive simulation or a long-term scenario analysis event. It includes a plan to execute specific tasks and projects, use of resources, a budget, description of specific initiatives. A strategic playbook is your roadmap for executing on a strategy.