Nonprofit organizations are getting used to operating in a different world. Uncertainty, disruption, and volatility are now widely expected. Legacy planning systems and static governance tactics are a thing of the past. As we plan going forward, nonprofit leaders need to adopt a “Transition Planning” mindset instead of aiming for “Recovery” goals. There is no going back to 2019. To successfully navigate this new world, we need to bring on our “Transition Planning Swagger.”
The word transition is more proactive, innovative, imaginative, and hopeful than recovery, which conjures visions of legacy, status quo, old-normal, and returning to “the way it was.” This distinction has a big impact on an organization’s chances for success when planning for the future and closing the book on COVID-19.
There are many differences between planning for recovery vs. transition. The differences will be most noticeable regarding optics and messaging. In my mind, the most pronounced difference is that recovery is rearward facing, while transition is forward looking.
A transition approach shows leadership’s willingness to look forward, change, and, most importantly, be proactive. Transition also conveys that leadership understands that how we deliver on mission, design programs and services, acquire new sources of revenue, and allocate resources will all be different in the future.
Recovery assumes that old economic and environmental circumstances, which we do not control, will eventually return, and allow us to go back to our old ways of doing business. Both statements are generally false and highly misleading. The future will continue to be unpredictable with periods of high volatility. Even if conditions do return to old levels, people’s expectations and feelings have changed and will continue to change.
Recovery also implies we are waiting for a future pivot point to occur, at which time the organization will re-engage and return to old activities. Waiting is the opposite of being proactive. A transition approach demonstrates that your nonprofit’s leadership is in proactive mode, reading and reacting to changing circumstances to guide the organization to new levels of performance.
Planning Tip – Be bold and formal when adopting a transition plan to jump-start your organization. Name the plan, design your goals and set expectations. Involve your staff, Board, and other volunteer leadership. Aggressively market and raise energy levels around the transition plan. Actively look forward, be positive, and display your organization’s willingness to be creative and embrace change.
Finally, address your transition plan in all staff, Board, and committee meetings. Recognize the hard work and dedication of the past year and a half, but focus efforts and energy on the year ahead and beyond. Every planning area including reopening offices, reimagining programs, redesigning services, and even restructuring governance will benefit from the innovation and fresh perspectives that result from adopting a transition planning mindset.
Dark days are behind us. Hope, excitement, growth, and success are all ahead. That’s what we call “Transition Planning Swagger.”