Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How many nonprofits can say what their strategy is?

I consistently write about the nonprofit sector because I’m passionate about it, and I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to work at a well-run organization with a clear strategy. I enjoyed the Strategy from Development to Implementation article, because it was so evident in the planning process that I participated in. In examining the Elements of a Strategy Statement as it applies to College Possible, I’m able to see a few key takeaways from the process and finished product.

            First, College Possible had a defining mission statement: increase the number of college graduates from low-income backgrounds. It sounds a bit like a single goal, but in actuality, it’s extremely multi-faceted. In getting students to college, they must be identified, prepared and assisted in the application process. Once they’re there, graduation is minimum of four years away, and there are numerous obstacles to get there.

That said, there are clear limitations to College Possible’s strategy. We don’t work with students before their junior year of college. We aren’t able to fund students directly, but we connect them with sources who can. We don’t have a college coach on every college campus our students attend, but they do have a technology coach who can connect them to on campus resources as well as be a source of support.

Finally, our advantage is that our services are unique and they have been proven. In 2011, when we conducted our randomized-control trial in partnership with Harvard, no other nonprofit in college access had submitted itself to such scrutiny, and it showed that our program worked. Second, most college-focused nonprofits work in either getting students to college or assisting students at risk of dropping out of college. College Possible works proactively to leverage students’ relationships with their coaches from year to year to address obstacles not just before college but during the transition and through graduation. We do all of this at 1/7 the cost of similar federally funded programs.


College Possible’s success lies in the fact that every single person at every single level of the organization can say exactly what our strategy is in 35 words or less. We get students from low-income backgrounds to and through college with an intensive curriculum of coaching and support.

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