|Most documents that emerge labeled "strategic plan" have little influence on the strategic (board directionsetting) decisions actually made after the planning document is created.|
|Organizations could be said to have "strategies" in the form of general guiding ideas that influence how problems are perceived and solved, but they "emerge" rather than appear as formal plans from a special planning group or process. Various stakeholders have varying amounts and kinds of power, and those with the greatest influence shape a strategy from a number of specific decisions.|
|Major changes in strategy can and do occur but do so at disjointed intervals rather than evolving gradually over time; that is, the organization adheres to a given strategic position without changing it until eventually a "revolution" occurs that brings about a new strategy, which similarly lasts unchanged for a period, until the next revolution ( Miller and Friesen 1984).|
|The activity of engaging in a formal strategic planning process may, however, prove to be beneficial for reasons other than the limited value of the planning document it creates. It is valuable insofar as the process involves consulting with various external and internal stakeholders who do not have a regular influence on decisionmaking and requires gathering information on the organization's environment. Such activity can have the effect of improving the support of the external groups consulted, enhancing staff commitment to the mission, and resolving intraorganizational conflicts ( Bradshaw, Murray, and Wolpin 1992).|
|Evaluation tends to be carried out primarily at the program level, rather than at the organizational level. This means that comparisons of the relative costs and benefits of the range of programs are rare.|
|The focus of evaluations tends to be on processes and inputs rather than on outcomes. Process-based evaluation checks the policies, practices, and procedures followed by organizations, under the assumption that certain actions will lead to certain outcomes; for example, that "participative decisionmaking" will eventually result in a reduction in substance abuse by lowincome youth in an agency set up for that purpose; or that an increase in donations (inputs) will produce a corresponding increase improving the environment in an environmental protection agency.|
|The "ideal" methods of evaluation are rarely followed because goals are unclear, criteria are not defined or prioritized, and measurement instruments yield ambiguous results. In addition, behind the formal evaluation procedures there are often nonformal methods at work. These methods may involve making judgments of effectiveness based on the organization's unofficial reputation in the eyes of key stakeholders (called "isomorphism" by Di Maggio and Powell 1983). Judgments are also based on the degree to which those in the organization being evaluated appear to hold values and beliefs that are congruent with unspoken values and beliefs held by the evaluator ( Tassie and Murray 1995).|
|When all is said and done, many evaluations only marginally affect major policy decisions, such as funding allocations or downsizing plans; this is because of the strength of other variables such as pressures from other, more powerful, stakeholders.|
The study of the process of nonprofit governance is of great importance but suffers at present from the wishful thinking of normative writers and the general lack of knowledge about what really goes on. The possibility of improving governance depends on acquiring a better understanding of the actual processes and the factors that influence them. Until that time, the field will remain dominated by successive fads offering "the answer" to the problems of governance.
Bradshaw, Pat, Vic Murray, and Jacob Wolpin, 1992. "Do Nonprofit Boards Make a Difference?" Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, vol., 21, no. 3 (Fall): 227-250.
Bryson, John 1988. Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Burrell, Gibson, and Gareth Morgan, 1979. Sociological Paradigms of Organizational Analysis. London: Heinemann.