What happens when the one trick pony runs out of tricks?  What if that pony is a nonprofit Executive Director?  As long as the trick works the organization succeeds and the executive appears to have figured it all out.  When circumstances change – a major long-term funder goes away, for example – the proven, go-to approach simply doesn’t work any longer.  The trick has lost its magic touch.


Alas, the one trick pony only knows how to do one thing.  They may have their 10,000 hours in as they’ve certainly mastered the approach at hand.   What then?

It’s time to change strategies, that’s what.  As I’ve noted in my Radiance blogs and CausePlanet articles, every nonprofit strategy has a shelf life.  The real trick is anticipating the true expiration date.  How to know if and when the trick is up?  Here are a few clues.

  • Review the trends and conditions that have propelled success.  Will they buoy or rattle your nonprofit going forward?  Do this at least annually.
  • Seek outside perspectives.  Reach out to your board, staff, and colleagues – seek input from the folks around you who are gifted with the ability to forecast and connect the dots.  What are they seeing?  How can you anticipate or respond?
  • Learn a new trick.  Consider alternatives.  Chart a new nonprofit strategy.  Redesign your nonprofit business model.  Remember, it has to be relevant to markets and customers in order to be successful.  Be certain you craft a data-driven strategy.

Too often we equate financial success with overall organizational performance, when in reality revenue and net income are lagging indicators.  Board members need help differentiating illusion from reality – and determining if a new trick or a new pony is required.

How many tricks do you have up your sleeve?