Identity – The Win

In Organizational Development by Karen Buck

Any model of organizational life stages shows that, following a period stability or maturity, organizations reach a point where they must renew or decline. After nearly 20 years serving over 675 nonprofit organization and public agency clients, we reached one of these inflection points last year.

Following an internal renewal effort, Conservation Impact/ Nonprofit Impact has released The Integrated Strategy for Success and Sustainability: The Impact Model. The Impact Model updates our comprehensive, proven organizational development framework. It also refreshes and reinvents many of the fundamental tools you use to lead and manage your organization. This post explores how the he updated Integrated Strategy addresses organization’s identity.

Identity – The Win

The Integrated Strategy is an organizational development framework that defines what it takes to be successful and sustainable. The framework holds that for a mission-driven organization or agency, identity is paramount:

“…an organization’s identity is like its DNA. It makes the organization what it is, and everything else emanates from that.”

The Integrated Strategy for Success and Sustainability: The Impact Model, pg. 5

An organization’s identity encompasses its purpose and mission, its position within its operating environment, and its goals and measures of success. The updated Integrated Strategy hones our thinking about identity and crystallizes in what we like to call “the win.”

Essentially, the win is how your organization or agency defines the difference you want to make in the world. The problem you seek to solve or the need you plan to meet. A clear, specific, universally understood definition of what constitutes the win is infinitely more useful to an organization than any strategic plan or flowery statement of mission and vision.

Case in Point: Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County

Let’s consider ECPAC – an early childhood council working in Adams County, Colorado. ECPAC serves as the backbone of a county-wide effort that involves 45-50+ partners such as state, county, local agencies, child- and family-serving nonprofit organizations, K-12 and higher education institutions, healthcare providers and systems, public and private childcare providers, and parents, family members, and citizens.

While working with ECPAC last year, I interviewed and focus grouped over 40 individuals connected with this effort and I can honestly say that this is the most connected group of partners I have ever encountered. They set aside competing interests when needed. They accessed resources from their home organizations to support the collective effort. They willing participate in multiple board, task force, and other planning meetings – and have for years.

This is what “buy in” really looks like.

How does ECPAC do it? They have extremely talented and dedicated staff, board, and funders and I don’t mean to downplay the importance of these assets – they are crucial. But what brings and keeps all these partners together and moving forward is a clear, laser-like focus on their collective win.

ECPAC defines their win in a list of Community Indicators:

  • Adams County children are born healthy, into well-prepared families.
  • Adams County children’s health and early learning is supported at home and in the community.
  • Adams County children achieve individually appropriate development milestones.
  • Adams County children enter school ready to learn.
  • Adams County children read with proficiency at the end of 3rd grade.

If you don’t work in early childhood, these items might seem vague, but they are not. In this field, reading proficiency, “ready to learn,” age-appropriate development milestones, the community and family support that children’s health and early learning require, and well-prepared families are clearly-defined concepts that serve as specific targets. They are all measurable or detectable (either it exists or it does not).

Think about it. If you are a staff or board member leading ECPAC, which is more helpful in recruiting partners? Your mission: Building a community where every young child can reach their full potential; or your list of Community Indicators?

The mission statement expresses a lovely sentiment with which no one can disagree. But your list of indicators – your clearly defined win – is what is going to bring those partners to the table. Your list tells potential partners if, and to what extent, ECPAC’s interest intersects with their own. It positions you as a critically important strategic partner. It provides justification for partners to go to their own internal leadership and ask for a commitment of resources.

The mission statement can’t do that. The win can.

Key Takeaway: Planning is not Strategy

“In the past, the appropriate tool to address having an unclear identity was the strategic plan. However, this tool is no longer up to the task. Strategic planning – with its prescribed mission, vision, values, goals, objectives, and work plan template – detracts from an organization’s important work more than it provides any needed clarity. Simply put, planning is not strategy. The Impact Model replaces strategic planning with strategic decision making.”

The Integrated Strategy for Success and Sustainability: The Impact Model, page 4


We have updated and refined the original Integrated Strategy for Success and Sustainability to create the Impact Model in order to help organizations achieve impact in an ever-changing and challenging world. A clear, focused identity means making strategic decisions about your win – decisions made using relevant, objective data and solid analysis. Download The Integrated Strategy for Success and Sustainability: The Impact Model to learn more about making strategic decisions.