Evaluation and Strategic Planning: The Pearls of Leadership


Dr. M. Starita Boyce Ansari is a leader in the field of philanthropy and nonprofit management with expertise in the areas of philanthropy advising, strategic planning, fund development, and program design and evaluation. Starita’s successful turnaround management strategies have been featured in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Dr. Boyce Ansari is co-author of Leaders in Pears: How to be a Change Architect, Sister to Sister: A Guide for African American Girls and Brothers: A Guide for Young African American Men.

 Dr. M. Starita Boyce Ansari has been recognized by Ford Foundation and W. K. Kellogg Foundation for her research in philanthropy. One of Starita’s most noted achievements is the creation of a national, multicultural literacy program for the American Bible Society. She received her Ph.D. from SUNY, Albany in Higher Education Finance. Dr. Boyce Ansari also is Chief Change Officer at MSBphilanthropy Advisors, LLC.

Great leaders are strategic thinkers who passionately advocate for a cause and build a community of supporters. They are recognized as leaders in their field because their strategic thinking skills, along with passion, yield a social return on investment. Great leaders evaluate trends and outcomes to determine how best “to do good things.” Great leaders consistently ask questions and seek answers. They gather and analyze data and frequently fine tune the resources and tasks required to fulfill the mission. These skills ensure that the board, finances and staff sustain the strategic direction of the organization. The assessments of staff, programs and boards are based upon the strategic plan. Everyone from the custodial engineer to the chair of the board has a clear sense of his or her purpose, how his or her role will be measured, how he or she will fulfill that role, and its impact on the mission and vision.

The vision of every third sector leader should be to go out of business. When we eliminate health disparities, fix failing schools, eradicate human rights violations and solve hunger, then we “will have done good things.”    Thus, the pearls of leadership are evaluation and strategic planning, which are the indicators of responsive philanthropy.    Why is responsive philanthropy important? It is how leaders who are sincerely committed to the common good create innovative solutions and effectively challenge and change systems that sustain economic, educational, health and social disparities.

Is your Organization responsive? 
Responsive institutions refer to their strategic plan and evaluation outcomes to recruit staff, volunteers and board members who will effectively execute the mission. The right people board the bus, not purely based upon skills, but also passion and interests. According to the strategic plan and its outcomes people maneuver to the right seat at the right time and transfer from one route to another to create a cross-functional team that builds skills and utilizes talent and passion beyond the job description to fulfill the mission. When strategic planning and evaluation are the core functions of the day-to-day operations then institutions create a culture of trust and transparency. Most importantly they are responsive, accountable and high performing - the drivers for social change.

Evaluation and Strategic Planning
What happens day-to-day impacts goals, strategic plan, fundraising, mission and vision. When strategic planning is tied to evaluation and self-assessment is part of everyone’s job description, from administrative to executive level, then all work leads to fulfilling the mission and vision. Evaluation is a learning process and not a process for termination. Unfortunately, it is often used for the latter. In a strategic organization, staff evaluate their work and others, and have the freedom, regardless of position, to offer strategies for improvement. Evaluation takes stock of staff, board, donors, and recipients of programs. 
Great Leaders ask questions and seek answers.
  • What went well according to the strategic plan?
  • Are the programs effectively responding to the targeted market?
  • What impact do similar organizations have on the lives of those we serve?
  •  What aspects of the program does the public like or dislike?
  • What knowledge was developed and how can it be disseminated to government and charitable organizations?
  • What motivates volunteers, employees and others to work with us?
  • Which programs demonstrate a social return on investment?
  • What are the internal and external challenges and what support is needed to meet goals?
  • What lessons were learned and strategies were revised?
  • What deliverables may not be met and why?
  • Does the strategic plan support the brand and resonate through the website as well as other communications platform?
  • What critical paths in the strategic plan are in jeopardy?
  • Are there time and fiscal gaps in the strategic plan?
  • Do budget allocations support the mission and vision?
  • Do we have the human and fiscal capacity to reach the desired outcomes?
  •  Does our board understand and appreciate the organizations strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT)?
  • What has changed in the community and industry and how can we respond?
  • What are our successes and how can they be replicated or maintained and what is the cost?
  • Do we renew, merge or die when the organization is declining?
  • Do we have the right board members and do they fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities?
  • Are we effectively engaging our relationships to achieve the desired results?
  • Are the skills and interests of staff and board members aligned with the mission?
Great leaders ask such questions to:
  • ensure their organizations are responsive,
  •  benchmark the organization against its competition,
  •  impact policy,
  • learn what is or is not working, build on the strengths of the programs, staff and volunteers,
  • determine cost and time to achieve goals,
  •  frame the problem and develop an approach,
  • monitor organizational behavior,
  • map community assets,
  • make a case for support to donors/investors, and
  • most importantly, they use evaluation to take action. 
Unfortunately, evaluation and strategic planning are often merely exercises.  The data is not used to improve policies, programs, and operations. It frequently is not shared with the stakeholders and the staff.   Often it is not even the basis for fiscal or human capital decisions. Without evaluation and strategic planning an organization cannot be responsive. 


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