Sharpen Your Strategy With DIY Activities

October 4, 2016

When we say “strategic,” what’s the next word that comes to mind? If it’s “planning,” you're like many of our clients. And for many foundation staff and board members, dread is the feeling that follows.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In consulting with foundations around the Northwest and across the country, we have worked with leaders who are seeing strategy in a new way — as an ongoing practice rather than a discrete planning chore and an opportunity to mobilize continuous curiosity, experiment and learn, and even have some fun. Our new guide contains 10 activities that can help you get there, too.

We’re calling it DIY Strategy Improvements.

  • DIY because we’ve identified activities that you can without a consultant and within the structure of your current staff and board meetings. (Of course, The Giving Practice is always happy to consult with you for this purpose as well!)
  • Strategy improvements because these activities can help you reflect on and improve your strategy as it is now as well as lay the essential groundwork for developing a more detailed roadmap for the future.

Most strategic plans lie on a shelf, only to be read before the next planning cycle. The activities here will help you sharpen your focus on strategy in at least five ways:

  1. Strengthen the relationship between espoused goals and values on one hand and actual activities on the other.
  2. Practice strategy review on an ongoing basis instead of as a periodic ordeal.
  3. Uncover hidden assumptions among stakeholders about “how we work.”
  4. Create an environment of authentic conversations with and among stakeholders.
  5. Manage the inherent tensions between competing strategies in your organization.
Starting with a blank slate, what are some values that would spark ideas for your foundation?


We want to walk our talk when it comes to this guide, approaching it as a tool that evolves as we go and adapts to feedback and changing opportunities. The guide is free. Please use it and tell us how and what thoughts you might have for making it better. We would also love to hear any ideas you have for helping foundations sharpen their strategy in general. We’re grateful to both the Satterberg Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their support at different stages of developing this material, and to various clients with whom we have test-driven and refined these activities.

Every organization has strategy. Isn’t it worthwhile to have a practice for keeping it real with continuous improvements?

Jan Jaffe and Mark Sedway are senior partners with The Giving Practice, Philanthropy Northwest's national consulting team. They can be reached at and