The Commander's Intent: Find clarity, fast


Here's a concept that can help you find clarity, fast. Developed by the US Army, the notion of the Commander's Intent has useful application for fundraisers, and is working its way into the cases for support that I develop. I came across the concept this spring when I read Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Health.  

As I mentioned, the concept has its origin in the US Army. Imagine planning for combat situations. If this happens, do that. But it that happens, do this. Yikes.  (Not unlike fundraising in an unpredictable environment.)  Colonel Tom Kolditz, head of behavioural sciences division at West Point, says that "No plan survives contact with the enemy." Unpredictability in itself is an enemy. Things like weather, enemy response, breakdown of communication, etc., can render a plan entirely useless.

The US Army started to look to higher-level, framework thinking, turning away from the prescriptive and the specific. And the notion of the Commander's Intent was birthed.  The CI is a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan's goal and desired end-state. For example, a Commander's Intent can be to complete the operation without civilian or military loss of life. With that information, plans can be formulated or adjusted quickly and swiftly on the ground or in the air. Staff are free to improvise, and because they know the CI, they are all pulling in the same direction. Brilliant. 

There is significant application for the CI within the nonprofit sector. As individuals we have a natural bias toward a Commander's Intent, a way to operate that feels comfortable. The point here is to be intentional. That may mean overriding the natural bias. Know your desired end goal. State it. Live it. Communicate it. Boil it down to a crisp, plain-talk statement. When it becomes your true North, every conversation, every action will bring you closer to the goal. 

Here's how it can play out, organization A has a CI to raise as much money as possible, while organization B has a CI to grow and protect relationships. Apply these philosophies to a situation where a donor is unhappy about a commitment made at fundraiser. Organizations A and B will handle the ensuing conversations vastly differently. One will be about the commitment, the money; the other will be about the relationship.  One is sure to have a damaging outcome; the other is sure to make the donor feel valued and appreciated. 

The Commander's Intent is a powerful concept. It simplifies, empowers, enables and helps find clarity, fast. It's a concept I now apply to my work, my AFP* involvement, my interaction with family and friends. It's how I roll.  

*Association of Fundraising Professionals.