For nonprofits seeking to build their resilience, thinking long is essentially a judo move, where they adjust and respond to what’s thrown at them by turning a stronger opponent— spirit-sapping adversity—into bigger and bolder opportunities to accelerate social impact. Of course, imagining an audaciously aspirational vision of the future doesn’t mean they will achieve it.
Nevertheless, by setting their sights on a far-off point on the horizon, nonprofits can increase the odds that they will navigate around the inevitable obstacles and make real progress toward realizing their boldest ambitions.
And yet, thinking long, by itself, is not enough. After identifying their most aspirational 10‑year goals, it behooves nonprofits to “think short,” by tightening their focus and mapping out where they want to land within the next 12 to 18 months. They do this by identifying key areas of work that catalyze impact—that is, core programs they should continue to grow, work they should evolve, and new areas of work they should pursue.
For example, as a result of amplifying equity in its 10-year vision, MacDowell is currently developing new ways of engaging with artists who, for economic, cultural, social, and access-related reasons, might not have considered applying to the residency program in the past. The impetus was the “Virtual MacDowell” residency with eight artists, held this past August, which marked the first time in the organization’s century-plus history that it conducted a residency via Zoom sessions, replete with virtual meals and online studio tours.
One thing worth noting: There’s nothing magical about 18 months. It could just as well be a 12-month timeline. Thinking short is about teams looking far enough out to anchor their planning and achieve strategic clarity, but not so far afield that they lose focus. For MacDowell, the time horizon was 18 months, but for others it could be more or less.
To be sure, thinking long and short—setting your sights on the stars while simultaneously battling multiple crises on the ground—is no easy thing. It is far simpler to make either/ or choices: either plan for tomorrow or take up the pressing challenges of today. But adversity demands that resilient organizations push past the binary limits of either/or and achieve a synthesis, by reaping the advantages of long-term visioning while advancing toward the organization’s more immediate, shorter-term impact goals.
Read the full article about thinking long and short by Meera Chary and Bill Breen at The Bridgespan Group.