Mission, Strategy, and Theory

Do you ever have moments when you are unsure which direction you should go to reach your goals? What event or program will help you come closer to making the change you want to see in the community?

When you are struggling to decide which step is best for your nonprofit it is important to think about the theory behind your organization’s mission.

What is theory? Theory is the process of “asking reflexive questions about how things work and how they might work differently.”theory-practice

Theory is directly related to strategy. Once you know the mission of your nonprofit you cannot organize events simply because you have good intentions thinking that each event will directly contribute to your goals. You must take the time to think critically about the impact of each event and how it fits into your long-term plans.

“The purpose of theory is not to provide a pat set of answers about what to do, but to guide us in sorting out options, and to keep us out of the “any action/no action” bind. Theory also keeps us aware of the questions that need to be asked, so that what we learn in each activity will lead to more effective strategies in the future. Theory thus both grows out of and guides activism in a continuous and spiraling process.”

What does theory look like in practice? One example would be an organization that works to prevent sexual violence against women. Should they spend time fundraising to start a rape crisis center in the area or should they direct their efforts toward changing rape laws in the state? By asking themselves questions like, What is the immediate impact? What is the long-term impact? How long will it take? Are service projects more effective? Or is changing legislation the priority? Discussing possible answers and ideas helps this organization make decisions that align with what they believe to be the best way to help their communities.

Does your nonprofit already work to develop theory related to your mission? Did you realize you were doing theory when you practice critical reflection?


Jeffrey Nealon and Susan Searls Giroux. “Why Theory?”. The Theory Toolbox.
Charlotte Bunch. “Not by Degrees: Feminist Theory and Education”. Quest: A Feminist Quarterly.

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