In this series of posts about conducting a theologically sound strategic review for use by Christian ministries, I’ve written about using a theory of change to define what sorts of activities your ministry should engage in, and to document why you think they will work. I’ve also written about using strategy maps to build an organization that can support those activities.

What was missing was the linkage between

  1. the missional strategy developed in the theory of change, and
  2. the operational strategy developed in the strategy map.

I didn’t know how to link them and that’s why I wrote that you need two strategic plans: one for mission and one for infrastructure.

Well, the missing link has been found! And you only need one strategic plan. The theory of change is not a strategic plan, but just a process to help you develop a strategic plan.

The Missing Link

I found the link in a book I purchased several years ago and put in the library to read later when I did a strategic review. I forgot about it, but I came across it again last October and this time I read it.

Kaplan and Norton (the inventors of strategy maps) suggest nonprofits put customer needs (for charities, the term is beneficiary needs) at the top of the strategy map, but Paul Niven in Balanced Scorecard: Step-by-Step for Government and Nonprofit Agencies says you can add an extra line above that and label it Mission. Voilâ! There you go.

The theory of change takes you from your mission or vision (I prefer vision) through to the interventions you will make (your programs and services). The strategy map takes the interventions and inserts them at the mission level, then drills down into the organization to see what kind of organization and infrastructure you need to build to support the interventions. The rest of this post will show you how to develop a strategy map for your ministry.

Strategy Maps: Step-by-step how-to

Click on the image of our strategy map below to open it in a new window, and then open our theory of change in a third window. That way you can follow along the steps as I describe them.

CCCC's strategy map
Click to enlarge.

1. Set the boundaries of the strategy map

  • Our strategy map starts with the End statement at the top. Everything we do is done to make this vision for the future a reality. The point of all strategy and work at CCCC is to help our members be exemplary, healthy and effective Christian ministries. We spaced the key words across the top of the strategy map so we could later link all strategies to at least one of these words.
  • We also put our value proposition at the top, as a reminder that these are the reasons why our members value us. Everything we do needs to fulfill our value proposition. Our value proposition influenced some of the strategy map content because we wanted to be sure we deliver the expected value!
  • Our corporate values were added at the bottom of the page where they represent the foundation of our way of organizational life. Regardless of what we do, we must always be true to these values.

2. Create the rows of the map

The left hand column holds the name of each of the rows. Each row examines your organization from a different perspective. You may want to give a different name to a perspective if that makes more sense in your context, but regardless of the name the perspective should be the same. For example, we don’t think of beneficiaries. Our beneficiaries are our members, so we called the beneficiary perspective the member perspective. It means the same thing but uses our terminology.

  • The mission perspective answers the question, “What are the essential things that we must do to fulfill our vision?”
  • The beneficiary perspective addresses the question, “What must we do well to satisfy our beneficiaries?”
  • The operational perspective examines the question, “At which processes must we excel if we are to meet our beneficiaries’ needs?”
  • The assets perspective asks, “Do we have what we need in terms of people, technology and organizational climate?”
  • The financial perspective addresses the reality that none of the foregoing will happen if you don’t have any money. Money, or the lack of it, is the constraining factor for nonprofits. This perspective has two components, recognizing that to improve your financial position you must do at least one of two things: grow revenue or improve efficiency.

Both Niven’s book and Kaplan and Norton’s guide you through the more detailed mapping within each perspective.

3. Work from the top row down

The key to developing a strategy map is to realize that it does not document everything that you do, but only those things that are most critical to achieving your vision. So there will be lots of ongoing things that are good and necessary that will not appear on the strategy map. The idea is to reduce the clutter so you can easily focus on the essentials. These will be either new things you need to start doing, or things you are already doing that need significant improvement.

Mission Perspective

We took the Interventions column from the theory of change which was from the perspective of what we would provide, and turned it around in the strategy map so that it was from the perspective of what our members needed in order for our End statement to be fulfilled.

For example, we identified faith and practice guidance as an intervention. We can provide guidance, but what our members need are faith-infused practices if they are to be exemplary Christian ministries. The theory of change identified what they need, and the strategy map created the category the need fits within. For example, providing guidance is a specific thing we can do, but if we think of members having faith-infused practices, we have created a category in which guidance is but one possibility. The category could stimulate other program and service ideas, making the strategy map a dynamic document.

The benefit using both a theory of change and a strategy map is that the theory of change produces an explanation of why we think a given intervention will work and it allows us to test the explanation for reasonableness. And by stating it from the beneficiary’s perspective in the strategy map, it means we take responsibility for the end result. In other words, if our guidance on faith and practice is ignored, then we can’t say “We’ve done our part” and be satisfied. Because we take responsibility for the external change, it means that if no external change happens, we have to ask why our guidance wasn’t accepted and acted upon. Was it relevant? Realistic? Persuasive? Affordable? If external change isn’t taking place, we must make the necessary internal changes that will produce a different external result.

Other Perspectives

Once you’ve got the mission perspective, the rest will flow out from it. We drew lines to connect each individual initiative to all the other initiatives that it supports, so we could see the linkages. Then we found which initiatives end up supporting four or five of our five key words from the End statement at the top. Those boxes we highlighted for special attention. Although we want to do everything on the strategy map, if we have to set priorities (which unfortunately time and money require us to do) then we will work first on the highlighted boxes because they provide the biggest bang for the buck.


The board approved our strategy map at the February board meeting, and since then we have drilled the map down to the departmental level so we now have operational maps as well as the strategy map. Allocation of resources, priorities, and other decisions will now all be based on our maps. This brings the strategy review to a close.

I wish you great success as you do your own strategic reviews!

Series Navigation<< Value Propositions for Ministries

Sign up for Christian Leadership Reflections today!

Stay up to date on our recent news articles and updates!