David La Piana’s book’s title: The Non-profit Strategy Revolution seemed like a promise I had heard before. Having served on non-profit boards and suffered through traditional strategic planning processes that guaranteed better results, I was skeptical. It was the subtitle that made me open the book: Real-Time Strategic Planning in a Rapid-Response World.

Early in the book’s preface La Piana acknowledges the immense frustration most of us have experienced with strategic planning: the sense of wasted time and money and the trap of waiting for your strategic planning to be “finished” while your plan simultaneously becomes outdated.

[Big sigh] There has to be a better way.

In order to embrace a better way, La Piana points out that it’s not just a nonprofit’s practice that needs to be altered but also the way funders look at traditional strategic plans, as well as all the consultants who have built traditional strategic planning businesses and extensive resources. The need is greater than just a better way; the need requires a revolution.

The thought of a revolution seems daunting and having been through a few strategic planning marathons, I can remember those painful exercises. The iconic Les Mis pyramid of revolt flashes to mind when I think of a revolution. It’s striking to me that La Piana’s book uses another iconic pyramid structure to explain the revolution he proposes—the strategy pyramid.


We are familiar with the pyramid structure for looking at organization. La Piana uses the pyramid to help us look at strategy. Let’s work from the top down as a system of support rather than building from bottom up.

“If the organization isn’t aligned top to bottom, then the pyramid is not well built and the mission, which sits at its apex, is subject to collapse.”

At the top, we make sure we know who we are and where we sit in the community. Why are we here? How are we unique? We explore the big picture. This informs us how to build our programmatic strategy. Our programs define for us how we should operate day-to-day in order to meet our goals.

So far, this isn’t painful.

We get to work and things are running smoothly. Along comes an issue—could be a small problem or a big problem but we must address it. Do we react to the problem and address it from an operational level? After all, that’s where our day-to day strategy resides. La Piana’s theory suggests we look at any situation through the pyramid starting at the top. This forms our ability to create a real-time strategic planning cycle that follows the consistent steps of first reviewing any issue for how it fits the mission and vision of our organization. If we are ever-aware of our identity, this becomes our strategy screen for how to respond and adjust to ongoing challenges.

A real-time strategic planning approach keeps marathon strategic planning sessions at bay and keeps our organizations positioned proactively in the community. The promise is that our work is dynamically implemented for the good we are striving toward, that our limited resources are put to better use, and we are a stronger organization made better by keeping our mission at the apex of everything we do.

Still, a revolution seems daunting. La Piana acknowledges that concern by including an online facilitator’s guide. Use the book as an intro to the process and then use the step-by-step guide—including worksheets—to complete the process.

Get an expert’s advantage by attending DNA’s Shine the Light on Your Non-profit workshop November 20, 2013. Our guest speaker is Rosalyn Allison-Jacobs, Senior Consultant with La Piana Consulting. In this half-day workshop you will receive a head start on your strategic planning revolution. Register here. For more information on our Shine the Light workshop series, contact Katie Ward Katie@dnacc.com or 864-235-0959, ext. 0.