How Stopping Everything Increases Your Nonprofit Marketing Impact

I was struck hard by Umair Haque’s directive to stop and reflect, featured in his article Making Room for Reflection Is a Strategic Imperative in the Harvard Business Review.

Like most of us, I’m more of a doer. It’s far easier to do, even when it’s busywork, than to step back.

Stepping back to reflect requires stopping and stopping brings up a lot of fears. What about that pressing deadline, the e-newsletter due to launch tomorrow or the new twitter handle that needs to be handled?

But doing doesn’t move your marketing agenda forward. “Our doing/reflecting ratio is wildly out of whack. [Many] action items [are] distraction items — from the harder work of sowing and reaping breakthroughs that matter,” says Haque.

I’m with him in believing that the real key to effective strategy is reflection. Here are two of Haque’s recommendations for productive reflection:

  • Get right to the source for insight on what’s needed and how you’re doing in meeting those needs (programmatically) and discussing that (via marketing)–your program participants, donors,partners and others in your network–rather than depending on surveys, third- or fourth-hand stories or nothing at all. Their perspective nourishes your reflection.
  • Qualify, rather than quantify. Stats mean less than richer qualitative insights. Think survey plus interviews, rather than survey alone. A number is a number, an anecdote is far more. Together, you have fantastic material for reflection.

And a few of mine for structuring reflection in the context of your marketing work:

  • Evaluate your marketing impact. But you first have to set measurable benchmarks that tell you you’re on the right path (or the wrong one) and implement measurement. Results are a perfect spur to reflection.
  • Assess your marketing plan against the current environment. That’s the kind of productive reflection that’s much more meaningful than hitting every implementation deadline. Deadlines are important, but only in the context of the larger picture.
  • Craft a marketing plan for your organization, if you don’t have one. That process (here’s a marketing plan template for your use), which far too few of you plow through, is all about reflection. If you’re just doing without a plan, you’re marketing agenda is all action without traction.
  • Timeblock a period for reflection on a weekly basis–be it planning, evaluation or just brainstorming away from your desk. It’ll never happen if you don’t schedule it.

Reflection is the only way to move away from more of the same. As Haque says, “what got you here, won’t get you there.”

What are your strategies to integrate reflection into your marketing work, and how does it help you? Please comment below.

Nancy Schwartz on December 1, 2010 in Strategy | 4 comments
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  • Betsy

    I also struggle with stepping back and evaluating, busywork always seems to much easier to accomplish, even when I am fully aware that I would be more productive after a few moments of reflection.
    I think that I am going to start allotting a timeblock each week to reflect, evaluate, and plan. Even thinking about setting this time aside and sticking to it makes me feel more productive.

  • emc2

    Another non-profit blogger, Jeff Brooks, just wrote that non-profits spend too much time thinking about things, and not enough time doing. I feel confused.

  • Nancy Schwartz

    That is confusing, Elizabeth! I’d say that it depends on the nonprofit communicators you talk to. Most of the folks I know – as clients and members of the community – are all about the doing, not the thinking! Which side do you swing to?

  • emc2

    I agree with your point. People in all organizations need to reflect more on what they are achieving. People who stay busy tend to be promoted, in my opinion, and so, they dominate an organization. But I also agree with Jeff when he describes over-thinking as a way of avoiding risk. It is hard to know when the risk of making a mistake is acceptable, or not. I always think of NASA as an extreme example of a high-achieving organization that was once filled with risk-oriented doers — who later had to make major course corrections.

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