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The Board’s Role in Developing a Strategy Plan for a Not-for-profit

Not-for-profit organisations provide essential public services. Board members of not-for-profits need a roadmap to help them meet the needs of their communities by fulfilling their mission and stated purpose. The board’s role in developing a strategic plan is to set goals for the coming year, clarify what they need to do to make progress toward their goals, and develop a clear plan for how they can put their plans into practice.

The nature of not-for-profits organisations is that they vary substantially in size, purpose, and function. It’s not possible or practical for strategic planning to be a one-size-fits-all process. Boards may need to rely on past strategic plans as a starting point for working on their new strategic plan. For new not-for-profits, the board plays a very important role in setting the standard for future strategic plans. Overall, the board should focus on how to build the organisation’s capacity to be successful and how they plan to deliver the components of their strategic plan over time.

Related article: What Are the Components of Effective Board Governance Tools?

What Are the Benefits of Strategic Planning?

Too many not-for-profit boards approach their strategic planning with great enthusiasm and intent, yet they fail to monitor it over the course of the year to bring their plans to fruition. Consequently, they’re missing out on the benefits that result from thoughtful strategic planning.

To realise growth and development, not-for-profit boards need to consider strategic planning as more than a formality. A thoughtful approach to developing a strategic plan will yield the following benefits:

  • Fosters strategic thinking all year long
  • Encourages board training and development
  • Inspires the development of new activities
  • Improves decision-making
  • Enhances the legitimacy of the organisation
  • Builds networks within the community
  • Provides direct benefits and opportunities for the board members, staff, and volunteers
  • Improves efficiency and effectiveness
  • Helps the not-for-profit respond to crises and be resilient
  • Sets the organisation up to be responsive to the community’s needs

Related article: Why a Board Portal Will Improve the Performance of Your Not-for-profit Board

How Should Boards Define Strategic Planning?

Developing a strategic plan is much more than a single annual activity, or at least it should be. Strategic planning is a deliberate effort where boards formulate a plan to guide the not-for-profit’s activities toward fulfilling its mission.

As a first step, developing a strategic plan requires identifying a common set of concepts, tools, procedures, and practices to assist the board in meeting the not-for-profit’s objectives. A strategic plan guides the organisation toward why they need to set up certain activities, who will take the lead on various activities, and how to implement and monitor those activities.

Strategic management and implementation are both action-oriented processes. They should complement each other because they mutually influence each other. Strategic management is an ongoing process that involves integrating and implementing the strategic plan across the organisation.

Related article: The Benefits of Board Portals for Not-for-profits

What Is the Board’s Role in Establishing the Right Steps for Strategic Planning?

It’s always appropriate to review the not-for-profit’s overall mission, vision, and values before working on the strategic plan.

Generally, the next step in developing a strategic plan is to review the previous plan. This is a good time to take stock of what the board’s goals and objectives were for the previous strategic plan and how much progress they made towards achieving them. The board then needs to re-evaluate any goals they didn’t meet previously and determine if they should be carried over into the new strategic plan.

Best practices for developing a strategic plan for not-for-profit boards recommend that they go through a SWOT process. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It’s a fairly simple exercise that boards can do and use as a basis for the rest of the process. Completing a SWOT analysis can be as basic as drawing four squares on a whiteboard and listing the organisation’s strengths in the S box, weaknesses in the W box, and so forth.

Next, your board’s role is to set up short and long-term goals that will help you make progress toward reaching mission-related objectives. It’s common for boards to use the acronym SMART to establish meaningful goals that they can monitor and track.

Identify new goals according to SMART standards:



A-achievable or attainable


T-time measured or time-bound

Once you’ve established a reasonable number of SMART goals, the next step is to create a plan for how your board will reach those goals and for which individuals or committees will be responsible for attaining those goals. Part of your board’s role is to put your strategic plan in writing, create a schedule for completing each goal, and make sure that all board directors have a copy of the plan.

In the interest of monitoring the strategic plan, boards should put a review of the strategic plan on their board meeting agenda at least quarterly.

The Future of Not-for-profit Strategic Planning

As best practices for good governance continue to evolve, the future of strategic planning may become clearer and better defined. Currently, much of the knowledge and expertise about how to pursue not-for-profits strategy planning lies with veteran board members that have led the process multiple times.

Not-for-profit strategic planning may be made easier in the future as business research firms and not-for-profit experts work to establish specific design features and principles to guide the development of not-for-profit strategic planning. Clarification with the strategic planning process will serve to identify the types of actions that not-for-profit boards need to take tackle specific challenges and produce desired outcomes.

Future case studies that analyse possibilities, drivers, and constraints will pave the way for not-for-profit boards to visually map strategies that they can draw on quickly for establishing goals, dealing with crises, and assisting them in being forward-thinking.

According to the Not-for-profit Sector Leadership Report, about 49% of not-for-profits fail to do strategic planning. Not-for-profits that choose not to invest the time and energy in a strategic plan may create a variety of risks for themselves and their organisation. Your not-for-profit board’s role demands following through on developing a strategic plan. The process requires vision and tenacity and the positive benefits that come from good strategic planning are worth the effort.

BoardEffect’s board portal offers a secure platform for not-for-profit strategic planning. A board portal opens up opportunities for collaboration and communication about strategic planning. Granular permissions ensure that only authorised individuals have access to board materials. BoardEffect is an essential tool for strong not-for-profit strategic planning.

Related article: Why Should Not-for-profit Boards Consider a Board Portal?

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