My Concerns About the Use of “Templates”

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    It seems that the use of “templates” in on the rise. I’m seeing them mentioned more often lately for strategic planning, Boards, marketing and fundraising We’re getting more calls from potential clients who want us to use a certain template.

    Some Advantages of Templates

    1. They very quickly depict a certain approach to doing a seeming complex activity.
    2. They sometimes promise a very quick way of doing a seemingly prolonged activity
    3. They can quickly orient people to a certain way of doing that activity.

    Some Potential Disadvantages of Templates

    I’m concerned about some of the disadvantages, including that they:

    1. Might minimize the time needed for critically important strategic analysis, thinking and discussions.
    2. Can give the illusion that all planning and plans can be the same, regardless of the different purposes of planning.
    3. Might suggest a “quick fix” to the challenge of allocating sufficient time and resources to good planning.
    4. Indirectly suggest that a nonprofit should have certain structure and certain Board committees.
    5. They don’t orient planners to the different variety of models for planning, i.e., don’t enhance the internal planning capacity of planners.

    Some Constrictive Assertions of Some Templates

    For example, I’ve seen at least five templates in the past couple of months. Some:

    1. Specify which committees a nonprofit should always have.
    2. Specify the maximum limit of committees for all nonprofits.
    3. Specify certain procedures for solving problems and making decisions.
    4. Specify the time frame that a Strategic Plan should be.
    5. Specify that sufficient planning can be done in a certain number of hours.
    6. Of less concern, they regularly mention the roles of EDs, fundraising and volunteers.
    7. Assert that mission, vision and values must always be looked at first in planning.

    Where Templates Can Go Wrong

    However, the above specifications and assertions are not always true. They depend completely on the nature and needs of the nonprofit. For example:

    1. The number and types of committees might depend on the number and complexity of strategic priorities.
    2. The way that decisions are made and problems are solved depend on the culture of the organization, e.g., some prefer a highly rational breakdown of the issue, while others prefer a more unfolding, naturalistic, but inclusive approach.
    3. The time frame of a Plan should depend on, e.g., how rapidly the environment is changing around the nonprofit and the range of its resources.
    4. There are occasions where mission, vision and values are not the best to start planning with — if an organization’s programs and clients have not changed, but it has many internal issues, then address those first.

    The role of templates has its advantages. But I wish that the authors of templates would do more to caution the users on the purposes, limitations and considerations in using those templates.

    ??? What do you think?


    For more resources, see our Library topic Nonprofit Capacity Building.

    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD – Authenticity Consulting, LLC – 800-971-2250

    Read my blogs: Boards, Consulting and OD, and Strategic Planning.