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A Nonprofit's Strategic Plan Should Be Something That Adapts Over Time With Changing Circumstances

Developing Your Nonprofit’s Strategic Plan

The goal of strategic planning is to provide a structured process to establish goals and objectives, outline steps to achieving them, align the staff and resources to support them, and establish a timeline for making progress. While it sounds complicated, developing a nonprofit strategic plan isn’t difficult, even if you’ve never done one before.

Don’t make the mistake that many other nonprofits make which is to complete the strategic plan and toss it into a drawer. A nonprofit strategic plan should be considered a fluid plan or a living document which can and should be modified around changing circumstances.

It’s not necessary to take the time to redo the process every year. Typically, most nonprofit organizations schedule time to redo their strategic plans approximately every three to five years. In the interim, boards should be continually monitoring and reviewing the nonprofit strategic plan so they can update it and adjust it as necessary. Ultimately, the strategic plans will be put into the business plan and supporting plans.

It’s helpful for nonprofits to break down the strategic planning process into five specific steps.

  1. Complete a SWOT Analysis

The acronym SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Draw a box and write each word in each box. Fill the nonprofit’s strengths into the strength box and then complete the rest of the boxes in the same manner.

A SWOT analysis provides clarity on where you are as a nonprofit organization. It also shows how internal and external stakeholders perceive your organization.

Your nonprofit strategic plan will be the most valuable when you can make the process as objective and insightful as possible. For this reason, it’s helpful to consider hiring an outside facilitator or consultant to lead your group in developing the strategic plan. Most nonprofits find that the cost of hiring a third-party is well worth the effort in getting the best results. Try to plan for the costs in your budget every three to five years for the best results.

  1. Decide on Your Nonprofit’s Goals

Bear in mind that you won’t be doing this process again for three to five years. A nonprofit strategic plan should be forward-thinking. As your group begins brainstorming about what they want to accomplish, lots of ideas will come forth. Write all the ideas down (no idea is too small at this stage) and prioritize them according to what you believe your nonprofit can accomplish in three to five years.

To get you started, it may be helpful to start with one or two program-related goals, one organizational health and capacity goal, and one fundraising or fiscal health-related goal. In addition to setting each goal, note why the goal matters to the nonprofit.

Once you have a list of goals, another tool that can help you prioritize your goals is an Impact/Viability Matrix. Once again, draw a box with four squares. Label them as following:

  • High mission impact/low viability
  • High mission impact/high viability
  • Low mission impact/high viability
  • Low mission impact/low viability

Write your goals into each box to help you relate them to your mission and gauge how viable your goals are.

  1. Get Input from Key Stakeholders

It’s crucial to get buy-in from all the key stakeholders on your nonprofit strategic plan. Get input from past fundraisers.  Ask for input from staff and volunteers that have past experience working with the nonprofit to find out what things have and haven’t work and get their opinions about what they believe will work moving forward.

Ask current staff for their input and take it a step further. Ask them what goals they’d like to see come to fruition and how they could form them into measurable steps. There’s a huge benefit to this. Once staff and volunteers can see their part in the scope of the overall plan, their work becomes meaningful and your nonprofit will experience less turnover in employees and volunteers.

Of course, the board of directors should have input based upon the work they’ve done as a board. Outside consultants also provide valuable comments and advice that helps to get everyone on the same page and supportive of the goals and priorities.

  1. Make Every Goal a SMART Goal

There is a standard accepted way of setting goals called SMART goals. See below for an explanation:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Setting specific goals will increase your chance of success. Having measurable goals will help you assess where you are in achieving your goals. Ensuring that you have set attainable goals means that you’re not reaching for the stars in a way that won’t happen. The issue of relevance is important in goal setting because your nonprofit should be setting goals that are achievable for the current period and for the next three to five years as well. It’s equally important that you assign a timeframe to your goals that you can periodically review to assess your progress. Having a timeline will increase the likelihood that you will achieve your goals within that set period of time because it holds you accountable.

  1. Execute the Strategic Plan

Your nonprofit will only be able to fulfill your strategic plan when you align your resources with the plan. Think about your nonprofit’s capacity, staffing levels, fundraising ability, tools, and training needs.

Be adaptable to changing conditions. We live in a fast-paced Information Age where things can change overnight. Your nonprofit should continually be on the lookout for changing conditions that could provide opportunities and present serious risks and your board will need to be prepared to respond either way. Finally, don’t forget to celebrate important milestones and accomplishments. Work together to create a culture of positivity. In all that you do, continually reference the mission, vision, and goals in the important work your nonprofit does.

Your nonprofit strategic plan is one of the most important documents that your board will create. Be sure to keep your strategic plan accessible to all who need it by storing it in your BoardEffect board management software system. The platform will keep your plans confidential and secure; yet, they will be accessible to users that are authorized by the program to access them. The platform is available 24/7 from any location in the world. Board directors will appreciate the convenience of being able to access it using any electronic device. BoardEffect supports modern governance and it’s the key to your nonprofit’s success.

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