Monday, February 10, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Strategy vs. Tactics

This is one of the most-asked questions that almost never gets asked out loud when I speak at a conference or the Webinar Q & A sessions following my presentations. I can always count on someone coming up afterward or sending me an email asking me to define, specifically, the difference between strategy and tactic.

It is so common for all of us to throw out the word “strategy,” as in, “my strategy for this next mailing is to use a premium,” instead of referring to the premium as a tactic in the mailing.

Tactics = Tools

Strategy = A Plan

We all do it. And if you had asked me ten year ago, I probably would have brushed it off as mere semantics . . . but no longer.

In times of stability and little change, misunderstanding a word’s actual meaning isn’t that important in the big scheme of things. But in times like we are living in now, when very serious issues of strategic disruption can spell the difference between remaining viable as an organization or not, then yes, not understanding the true meaning of a word can be serious for fundraising leaders.

There is no question that most fundraising leaders understand that their future is online . . . but for about 85% of them, though they understand that fact, it is where they stop.

Most GenX and baby boomer age fundraising leaders don’t even use social media themselves. And if they do, it is probably Facebook. Then they rarely – if ever – look at it, or worse, post anything. Actually, that was me a few years ago.

And for those who have opened a Facebook, Twitter or other social media account, my complements! But, as the authors of The Networked Nonprofit say, “social media is a contact sport.” Which of course is their way of saying, if you don’t use it, you DON'T UNDERSTAND IT!

Today, virtually all fundraising organizations use social media.

Upwards of 85% of fundraising leaders really don’t understand social media because they don’t personally use it. These same people are somehow going to come up with a new strategy (because they are the leaders) for the Web that incorporates not only social media, but other online tools and technologies . . . how exactly is that going to work? 

But maybe I am getting ahead of myself by making a wrong assumption.

Those fundraising leaders whose organizations are using social media (but they themselves don’t really understand it because they don’t personally use it) probably aren’t thinking of Web-based tools like social media in a strategic sense, are they? They are probably thinking of them as mere tactics . . . and these social media tactics are essentially tied into their existing strategy.

But isn’t the Internet disrupting all other industry sectors? I am at a loss to think of any industry sector that, at some level, is not being altered or directly affected by digital disruption.

But in the minds of most fundraising leaders, digital disruption is passing them by. They are happy with the new online tools, but they don’t lose sleep over them . . . in fact, they don’t worry about them at all.

Using what are clearly disruptive new tools within an old paradigm is nothing more than treating them as tactics. However, when you use new tools in a new way, THAT is changing your strategy.

You will never understand the strategic significance of something until you use it yourself.


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