Written by: Caylin Haldeman

If you are anything like us, your last few weeks have been a little bit hectic. The beginning of the new year brings with it new opportunities, fresh ideas, and the start of some truly exciting projects. But seeing the dates on the calendar reset can also be a reminder – of where we have been, where we are going and the barriers or roadblocks that are impeding our progress.

Between launching new client engagements and implementing our updated annual plans, we are also in my favorite season of the year — the hectic transition between CULTIVATE Cohorts. Right now, last year’s Cohort is busy putting the final touches on their three-year strategic business plans, while the incoming Cohort is participating in their very first coaching sessions and group workshops.

Some background: CULTIVATE, our virtual learning community, and incubator for emerging nonprofits in the Charlotte region was designed to create more accessible organizational planning support. We built the program and curriculum with a singular goal – to help our cohort members build strong nonprofits capable of meaningful, lasting impact from day one.

While CULTIVATE was founded to support founders as they navigate the challenges of early-stage growth, our work at Next Stage spans a wide range of organizations and leaders from both the nonprofit and corporate sectors. After reflecting on the experience of our Cohort members at the start and end of their CULTIVATE journey, we identified three things that organizations of any size and stage could learn about planning from founder-led organizations.

Impact starts and ends with vision.

Seriously. Our first activity with our CULTIVATE cohort each year is to define what we call a time-limited vision (three-, five- or ten-years, depending on ambition) for their growth and impact – and our last activity is, you guessed it, redefining that same time-limited vision. That vision is the north start of future growth and impact, even as how we plan to get there may shift year-to-year. One of the magic moments of CULTIVATE every single year is witnessing how a founder’s compelling and measurable time-limited vision transforms boards, activates volunteers and energizes donors. As you consider your own path forward, what is the “big idea” that motivates you?

Implementation eats strategy for breakfast.

You’ve probably heard Peter Drucker’s famous line, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Our take is that implementation is the real predator here. If strategic business planning is not tied directly to tactical implementation and actionable next steps, we’ve wasted our time. While strategy can be great marketing, implementation is where founders know to focus their time. Can you relate, that ‘talk is cheap’ unless we are putting in the time to move things forward?

Prioritize building the army – not winning the war. 

With a strong, time-limited vision and detailed implementation plan in place, you’d think any nonprofit is ready to execute on its mission. But priority #1 for founders of growing nonprofits isn’t expanding programming or measuring impact – it’s constituency building. So often, we get wrapped up in the execution of our plans. It is unlikely that you’ll achieve your goals through sheer willpower and determination alone. You don’t have to run an early-stage nonprofit to appreciate that it takes a lot of people to make a big dream come true.

We are inspired by all of our CULTIVATE organizations, and they are informing how we move our own firm forward. This year, we’re taking these three lessons and using them to guide our planning for the future of CULTIVATE. What does that future look like, you ask?

We’re still building out the details, but we’ll tell you this: everyone benefits from planning like a founder. Ultimately, we don’t think that providing six emerging nonprofits each year with CULTIVATE support is enough. We’re looking for our own multiplier effect – the ability to create sector-wide impact by creating more accessible learning and community-building opportunities for nonprofits of all shapes and sizes.

Over the next few months, we’ll be bringing CULTIVATE back under the Next Stage brand to prepare for the expansion of the program to more than just emerging organizations. Sign up for the Next Stage newsletter and follow along on social media to be the first to know more.