2 Powerful Tools to Make Time for Your Nonprofit’s Strategic Planning
Do you feel like there is never enough time in the day to work on your nonprofit’s strategy? You are not alone. Nonprofit leaders often share this sentiment due to numerous urgent and competing demands, such as taking care of personnel issues, fundraising, grant proposal writing, engaging stakeholders, communicating with the board and on and on.
It’s no wonder why strategy can easily slip through the cracks. While it can be hard to make time and space for strategic planning and execution, having a robust strategy is vital for any organization that wants to ensure long-term success.
Although there isn't a quick fix to find more time, fortunately, with the use of some tools, making time for strategy and other priorities doesn’t need to feel like such a daunting task. Let’s explore ways to make strategic planning more manageable each week by using the Eisenhower Time Management Matrix and the Focus Funnel.
Eisenhower Time Management Matrix
In the 1950s, in response to his need to quickly prioritize his profound responsibilities as a U.S. general and president, Dwight Eisenhower created a simple prioritization and time management tool that became known as the “Eisenhower Matrix.” Since then, this matrix has been adapted and expanded upon worldwide, most notably by Stephen Covey in his seminal work on personal and professional productivity.
The Eisenhower Matrix helps you focus on the tasks that are most relevant to your goals while avoiding those that are not. The matrix categorizes tasks into these four quadrants.
Quadrant No. 1: Urgent and Important
Tasks in Quadrant No. 1 demand immediate attention and have significant consequences if delayed. Prioritizing and allocating sufficient time to tackle these tasks is crucial to avoid negative outcomes. Balancing time spent in this quadrant with other quadrants is vital to prevent burnout and maintain overall productivity.
Examples of tasks found in this quadrant include:
- Responding to personnel or financial emergencies.
- Meeting deadlines for critical projects or assignments, like submitting a grant.
- Finding and communicating with volunteers for an upcoming event.
- Managing unexpected events or interruptions, such as issues at on-site program locations.
Quadrant No. 2: Urgent but Not Important
Quadrant No. 2 refers to tasks that are important for long-term goals and personal/professional development, but lack pressing deadlines. Neglecting these tasks can have negative consequences, such as being left behind in your field or decreased well-being.
Examples of tasks falling within this quadrant include:
- Setting and measuring progress on long-term goals through strategic planning.
- Engaging in continuous learning and professional development through webinars, trainings and association newsletters.
- Cultivating and nurturing relationships with your community, donors and key stakeholders.
Quadrant No. 3: Urgent but Not Important
Tasks in Quadrant No. 3 have immediate deadlines but do not contribute to long-term goals or personal/professional development. They are often considered distractions and time-wasters.
To manage time effectively in this quadrant, it is crucial to minimize distractions by declining unimportant invitations and setting limits for social media use. Delegating tasks, outsourcing services, time batching and automation can also help. By minimizing time spent on quadrant No. 3 tasks, individuals can increase productivity, reduce stress and make progress toward long-term goals.
Examples of tasks found in this quadrant include:
- Attending meetings that don’t have clear outcomes.
- Working on projects that are not related to your goals as stated on your strategic plan.
- Excessive social media use beyond marketing and promotional strategies.
Quadrant No. 4: Not Important and Not Urgent
Tasks in Quadrant No. 4 do not have immediate deadlines nor do they contribute to long-term goals or personal/professional development. Effective time management in this quadrant involves recognizing tasks that lack value and may not be worth doing, even if delegated to someone else.
Spending time on these tasks often hinders the completion of more significant tasks. In most cases, it is advisable to eliminate these tasks from your to-do list. Setting limits on leisure activities, declining non-essential social invitations, and engaging in more productive and fulfilling activities can help achieve this.
Examples of tasks in this quadrant include:
- Excessive personal conversations during meeting times.
- Unsuccessful fundraising or outreach activities.
- Low-value social media activities
One important point is that not all fun or relaxing activities should be lumped into this category. Play and unstructured time hold significant value and do not necessarily belong in this fourth quadrant.
The Focus Funnel
A second powerful framework that helps you to streamline your workload, reduce distractions and focus on what really matters — like strategy — is Rory Vaden’s Focus Funnel. Vaden, a best-selling business author and entrepreneur, established the Focus Funnel as a way to help people better manage their tasks.
What I like about this method are the five stages of action that Vaden suggests after identifying your tasks and their importance/urgency level (which can be done by completing the Eisenhower Matrix).
The goal is to start at the top of the funnel and work your way down by evaluating which tasks can be put into the following stages: eliminate altogether, automate for efficiency, delegate to others, defer or procrastinate, and concentrate.
When reviewing your matrix results, you may be able to first eliminate tasks that fell into quadrants No. 3 and No. 4.
The tasks that can be effectively automated include anything repetitive or mundane, such as data entry, scheduling, and invoicing. Strategic planning software can help you save time by automating reminder messages to your team to track progress on your plan. By implementing the right tools and systems, you can streamline these tasks and eliminate the need for manual intervention, which ultimately frees you up to focus on more complex or creative work.
Delegation is an essential aspect of your personal productivity. Vaden suggests delegating tasks that can be done at least 70% as well as you can do it. By outsourcing certain tasks, you can free up valuable time to focus on high-priority projects that require your specialized skills and expertise. Delegating some of your strategic planning process to a consultant can help save you time in working out logistics and provide you with expert guidance along the way.
Delay or Procrastinate
Procrastination does not need to be a bad thing. In this stage, you should focus on your most important tasks while intentionally delaying less pressing matters. By doing so, you can ensure that you are putting your energy toward the activities that will have the greatest impact on your nonprofit’s goals and success.
Your undivided focus and concentration should be reserved for tasks that fall into quadrants No. 1 and No. 2. This includes implementing a strategic planning process that builds in time for reviewing and measuring progress on your plan’s goals.
Running a successful nonprofit takes more than being an inspiring leader: It requires working on the right things, focusing and developing strategies. Using the Eisenhower Matrix and Focus Funnel can help you differentiate between urgent and important tasks and decide what should be prioritized, what can be delegated to team members and even what should be procrastinated, if need be.
The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with all that’s on your plate, take a step back and apply the principles of these useful methods to guide priority setting and time management. Assess your tasks using these tools and you will soon find ways to save time and focus on strategy.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Eric Ryan has dedicated 25 years of his professional life to service. He is the co-founder of Mission Met, a company devoted to making strategic planning easier and more effective for nonprofit and organizational leaders around the world. Although he has focused on serving small nonprofits, Eric has also consulted with numerous corporations and government entities.
In addition to his consulting work, he has started one nonprofit, been an executive director, and served on several boards as both treasurer and board chair. He led the creation of nonprofit strategic planning software, Causey, and is the author of "Mission Met: Proven Strategic Planning Guidance to Help You Build a Financially Secure and Impactful Nonprofit."