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How to Create a Strategic Plan

Looking for a way to take your company in a new and profitable direction? It starts with strategic planning. Keep reading to learn what a strategic plan is, why you need it and how you can strategically create one.

What Is a Strategic Plan?

When it comes to business and finance, strategic planning will help you allocate your resources, energy and assets. When implemented, a strategic plan will begin to move your operations in a more profitable direction. The primary goal of the plan is to ensure you and any other stakeholders are on the same page and striving to reach the same goal.

Creating a strategic plan requires a disciplined effort. Once you put the plan into action, it will influence the segment of customers that you target, how you serve those customers and the experience those customers have.

Assess the Current Infrastructure and Operations

The first step in creating a strategic plan is to carefully assess your existing infrastructure and operations. You can do this through a SWOT analysis, which is an analysis of the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The goal here is to pinpoint the resources that you use to carry out your day-to-day operations, to look at your monthly revenue patterns, to list any company challenges related to the customer experience and, most importantly, to look at your marketing methods and ways to improve the overall customer experience.

Creation of Mission Statement and Objectives

The next step is to create a mission statement. You may already have one, but it’s important to note your mission at the top of the strategic plan document you create. This ensures everyone is focused on the same goal. Your mission statement should cover why you started the company and what you intend to accomplish through the products and services that you offer.

In addition to the mission statement, make sure to outline both short- and long-term objectives. List the objectives according to their priority and designate certain managers or employees to be responsible for each one. Also, jot down the resources that will be used to achieve each objective.

Measure Performance

Now that you know what you’re trying to achieve and who is responsible for each goal, it’s time to deploy the plan and measure its progress. A weekly meeting is extremely important for all managers and stakeholders provide feedback. Your goal is to determine if the company is headed in the right direction. If not, you’ll need to revise the strategic plan accordingly.

Strategic Plans Are Ongoing

Once your strategic plan helps you achieve several objectives, it’s smart to regroup and set new objectives. As your company grows, you can set new goals to ensure the company keeps moving forward. You can share the success of your strategic plan with potential investors as a way to tap into new capital funding.


nonprofit organization strategic plan

Strategic Planning for Nonprofits

A strategic planning process identifies strategies that will best enable a nonprofit to advance its mission. Ideally, as staff and board engage in the process, they commit to measurable goals, approve priorities for implementation, and also make a plan to revisit the strategy on an ongoing basis as the internal and external environments change.

Many nonprofits start the process by identifying the nonprofit’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats, in what is commonly called a “SWOT” analysis. Looking at external factors (community needs or the economic outlook, for example) as well as internal capacity is important.

Looking ahead and planning for the future actually should be continuous: as various factors change, the nonprofit may need to adjust its plans. While the process of bringing everyone together to plan for the future is energizing, once the process is in the rearview mirror, don’t let the plan gather dust on the shelf. If no one refers to the plan after it is completed, then it’s hardly serving as a “strategic” guide! Revisit the plan periodically, making adjustments and adapting the plan as circumstances change.

Some have argued for throwing out the “plan” completely, or reducing it to a very short, concise document, easily digestible by staff and board. Articulating an organization's "theory of change" is another way to think about what success will look like, how to get there, and what resources will be needed. There are hundreds of consultants and volumes of written materials just on strategic planning, and many others that help nonprofits develop a theory of change. We've selected just a few for you below.

Your  state association of nonprofits  may also offer educational programs and workshops throughout the year to assist your nonprofit with proactive planning. Plus,  staying current  with trends and policy issues that affect nonprofit operations is key to being prepared to adapt to a changing environment.

Practice Pointers

A good way to keep your nonprofit’s board engaged is to tie the nonprofit's strategic initiatives to the agenda for board meetings, and to include a short discussion about some aspect of the nonprofit’s strategic direction in every board meeting agenda. 

Strategy is one of the board's most important roles. BoardSource offers  an array of resources  to help boards engage fruitfully in strategic planning.

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Additional Resources

Disclaimer: Information on this website is provided for informational purposes only and is neither intended to be nor should be construed as legal, accounting, tax, investment, or financial advice. Please consult a professional (attorney, accountant, tax advisor) for the latest and most accurate information. The National Council of Nonprofits makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or timeliness of the information contained herein.


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Nonprofit Strategic Planning: The Ultimate Guide + Examples

nonprofit strategic planning

The recent and unprecedented events caused by the COVID-19 pandemic caused nonprofits everywhere to rethink their plan for the year 2020 and even 2021. Determining how to shift strategies in these challenging circumstances is difficult for any organization. Still, nonprofits skilled at strategic planning are better equipped to handle any surprises, both good and bad, that could be thrown at them at any time.

Yes, it’s impossible to plan perfectly for unexpected events, but ensuring your annual strategic planning is more than a formality is the best place to start. Start with a template and various examples to craft a plan that allows you to react to the unexpected and grow and develop your organization. 

Whether you’re crafting an emergency plan to react to unexpected external circumstances or if you’re simply creating your strategy for the coming year, this guide will help your nonprofit get the most out of your strategic plan. With all of the different models and elements involved in your plan’s creation, you’ll need to consider which formats best meet your nonprofit’s needs.

While we all hope that the pandemic’s tragic events will end soon and never occur again, it’s always best to be prepared! Plus, annual strategic planning for nonprofits is the key to unlock your growth potential for the future. Let’s get started to learn more about making the most of this plan.

1. What is a strategic plan for nonprofits?

A graphic showing the defitnition to nonprofit strategic planning

Nonprofit strategic planning is the process of identifying elements of a blueprint that will help organizations accomplish their goals. It requires your organization to create goals and objectives and make decisions about how you’ll reach them.

Creating your strategic plan isn’t a linear process; it’s more similar to a flow chart because each element is connected to another and leads to a unique outcome. 

For example, your organization can increase email outreach after you’ve finalized your website and started collecting email addresses through lead capture forms. You can only expand your programming after you’ve improved your fundraising. And, you can only enhance your fundraising by stewarding donors and developing relationships with marketing tools.

Everything is connected. A good strategic plan considers this and ensures you have the pathways figured out to meet (and hopefully exceed) your goals for any aspect of your organization. 

2. Consider the best strategic plan model for your nonprofit.

Understandably, different circumstances and goals will require a unique type of nonprofit strategic plan. In the nonprofit world, there are several planning models  that you can use to reach your specific needs and goals. Choose a strategic planning model based on the circumstances and outcomes that are occurring at your organization.

For instance, if you’re in a troublesome economy due to a pandemic, you might choose one type of strategic plan. But if everything is stable in the world and you’d like to focus more heavily on your growth, you might choose a different one.

Carefully examine the following strategic model plans to decide which one will best suit the needs and ambitions of your organization:

A chart of nonprofit strategic models

Standard Strategic Planning Model

The standard strategic planning model, also known as the basic planning model, vision-based model, goals-based model, and the conventional model, is the most common nonprofit strategic planning model.

It’s best to use this nonprofit strategic plan model when your organization’s external surroundings are generally calm. When you start using this model, the economy is probably stable, your community and country are at peace, and your organization is well-established in the community.

Amid a global pandemic while you’re quarantining at home (*cough* COVID-19 *cough*) may not be the most suitable time to implement this strategy. Any disruptions in the environment surrounding your nonprofit could prove to be incredibly detrimental to this strategic planning model.

Generally, this model follows these steps: 

Here’s an example of what this would look like: Let’s say your organization has an animal shelter. In the next year, your specific short-term goal is to increase the shelter’s capacity by 50 animals and invest in the materials to do so.

To do this, your organization will need to increase fundraising revenue by $10,000 by finding new outreach opportunities and developing relationships with existing supporters to increase donor retention.

You may decide to ask one team member to post to social media every day to engage your online audience. Meanwhile, you may assign another person to call new donors to thank them and increase your new donor retention .

This model is the most common because the climate in which your organization resides is, more often than not, fairly stable.  When it does become unstable, that means it’s time to switch to a different model.

Issues-Based Strategic Planning Model

An issues-based strategic planning model can be used when your organization’s internal operations are in more turbulent conditions. For example, if you’re undergoing frequent staff turnover, a change in leadership, or an understaffed time frame, you may find an issues-based strategic planning model to be the best choice.

This nonprofit strategic planning model helps organizations get back on track if you seem to have slightly strayed from the path to success.

To implement this strategic planning model, you should conduct the following steps:

Consider the following scenario: Your nonprofit has limited staff and therefore struggles to increase your fundraising revenue. The element holding you back is your lack of human resources to raise funds. Consequently, you may decide to address this by making the most of your current supporter base.

In this case, you might focus your attention on developing relations with your current supporters and increasing revenue by building donor retention. Additionally, you may want to prioritize expanding your monthly recurring donor list to create more consistent revenue.

Therefore, you craft a plan to assign each team member an activity to help achieve these goals. Instead of rapidly trying to expand, you’ll focus on keeping fundraising activities and revenue steady to give you time to hire new staff members at the organization.

An issues-based nonprofit strategic planning model is a living plan. Instead of setting it in stone, you have milestones to check in and make adjustments based on your progress and results. 

Organic Nonprofit Strategic Planning Model

The organic or nonlinear nonprofit strategic planning model is best used when there are uncertain external factors. If you’re unsure or feeling unsteady about what the climate will look like shortly, this model might be a good choice for your organization.

Using this model, your team comes together to solidify their understanding of the organization’s mission and goals. Each person then comes up with actionable next steps to help get closer to that goal by the next time the group meets.

Generally, this model looks something like this:

For instance, you may find that one team member, Tommy, is especially good at face-to-face communication on the retreat. He’s empathetic and understanding and would be a great candidate for holding meetings with major donors to establish relationships with them. He may have a goal to leverage the information in your new donor database to foster relationships and grow major giving by 10% within the following year.

This model never looks the same for two organizations. Each team member has inherent strengths, so this model is designed to help your nonprofit make the most of those strengths. 

Real-Time Nonprofit Strategic Planning Model

The real-time nonprofit strategic planning model is best used when your nonprofit is in the midst of a crisis, like an economic recession or national/global catastrophe. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many nonprofits may have found this strategic model incredibly helpful.

This model relies on extreme focus for short-term goals that aim to help you weather the storm. Your nonprofit staff members might meet as frequently as every week to discuss your progress for these short-term goals. The model usually looks like this:

Consider the following situation: During the coronavirus pandemic, your nonprofit staff members work from home, you’ve canceled events, and your fundraising revenue has dramatically declined.

In response to the pandemic, you create new short-term goals each week. During the first week, you decide to write a grant proposal. The next week, you hear about the CARES Act and apply for the Payment Protection Program. The week after, you launch a marketing campaign informing supporters of the above-the-line deduction on charitable donations for the year to encourage them to continue giving to your nonprofit.

As you can see, these goals are small and manageable in a short time. Goals are created as responses to the direct impact that external forces have on your organization’s internal operations. 

Alignment Nonprofit Strategic Planning Model

The alignment nonprofit strategic planning model is best when your organization has great individual departments or team members but has trouble when it comes to communication between these departments.

This model tends to look something like this:

For instance, say your organization has an incredible grant writer, an excellent executive director, a communicative and empathetic major gift officer, and very capable fundraisers. However, they have trouble communicating with one another about the nonprofit’s goals and what each of them is doing to reach those goals. The result is discord among teams and a lack of progress.

In this case, consider ways to encourage teamwork between members. You may provide an overall fundraising goal for your fundraisers and major gift officer to work together on. Or you may set up check-in meetings for everyone to meet with the executive director and ensure that the director knows what’s happening and can prioritize accordingly.

The alignment nonprofit strategic planning model is a great way to set up some new communication standards and processes to incorporate moving forward as a team.

3. Define elements of your nonprofit strategic plan.

Before you’re able to start working on your nonprofit strategic plan, you should know the different elements that go into the creation process. Here are the different elements you should be aware of:

Overarching Organizational Strategic Plan

Ideally, every three to five years, your board and staff directors will meet to realign regarding goals and begin the strategic planning process. This plan is a living rough draft based on everyone’s ideas.

You’ll discuss measurable objectives for the team to reach and draft the priorities for each of these objectives. You may begin with a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. This can help you start defining goals and start considering which model strategic plan will best work for your organization.

This stage of the planning process is entirely internal but subject to change if significant stakeholders disagree. Your overarching organizational strategic plan is a living document that informs your strategic business plan and should be monitored and adjusted as necessary.

Annual “Business” Strategic Work Plan

Your annual “business” strategic plan is the actionable plan that your organization uses to execute your overarching organizational strategic plan. In this plan, your organization will define different elements such as:

There should be one to “generate the voluntary support necessary” to see your business plan through to fruition among your business objectives; that’s what your development plan grows out of.

Nonprofit Mission Statement

Your mission statement should dive into why your organization exists. What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? How are you different from other organizations?

This statement should use precise language but non-finite verbs. This leaves it open for continuous improvement and development on your mission; it will never be complete , but always a work in progress.

For example, The Smithsonian ’s mission statement is: Understanding the natural world and our place in it.

Nonprofit Objectives

Your nonprofit objectives should be specific and measurable. Some broad strokes for these objectives that you should include as a part of your nonprofit “business” strategic plan are:

Putting this information together in your strategic business plan shows your organization’s focus and how your internal actions will lead to progress and growth.

Development Strategic Plan

Your development strategic plan is often also considered your fundraising strategic plan . This is where your organization spells out the aspects and activities to fund all of your big philanthropic plans. 

Planning out your organization’s event (or virtual event) calendar, your campaign types, and the grants you want to research and write will help make up your organization’s funding plan.

For example, you might decide to plan one big nonprofit event per quarter, conduct research to find five grants you will apply for, and choose when to start a feasibility study to see if you’re ready for a capital campaign.

How Each of These Work Together

As you can see, each of these elements of a strategic plan works together to form a complete strategy for your nonprofit.

Your overarching strategic plan provides context and the general goals that you want to reach.

Meanwhile, your business strategic plan creates and defines the objectives that make up those general goals.

Finally, your development strategic plan answers the question of how you’ll fund these initiatives and achieve them.

4. Use these 5 steps to build your strategic development plan.

Now that we’ve laid out all of the types of strategic plans you can choose from and the elements that go into each, it’s time to get a closer look at how your organization can actually start the planning process.

We’ve already touched on how to create your overarching strategic plan and your business plans, both of which are very specific to your organization itself. Now, we’re going to go over building your nonprofit’s development strategy plan. Luckily, you won’t need to start this process from scratch. In addition to the five tips below, Bloomerang offers a sample development plan template that you can use to get started!

1. Know Your Development Plan Goals

The first step is to realize that your development plan goals are directly tied to your goals for philanthropy. Any funds you raise through various fundraising ideas are a means to make this philanthropy happen. The money is not the end goal for your organization; an impact on your mission is.

Use your organization’s budget to determine what your funding needs to look like to achieve your philanthropic goals. Then, break that down into categories for how you’ll raise the money.

For example, of the 100% funding that your nonprofit needs to achieve its philanthropic goals, you may decide to raise:

Of course, this is simply an example. Every nonprofit will have a different breakdown of their fundraising goals based on their current fundraising initiatives and their community.

2. Get Input From Key Stakeholders

Instead of just telling your development team to go raise the amount of money you need, you should ask your stakeholders for input about your fundraising goals. Give context about your goals and philanthropic objectives, explaining how each will impact your mission, then ask for feedback about the plan.

Stakeholders might raise the alarm if your fundraising amount is too drastically different from last year or if you’re relying on strategies that have been ineffective in the past. 

For example, let’s say your nonprofit has a good track record with grant writing. You’ve won 80% of the grants you’ve applied for, so you decide to dedicate a large portion of your fundraising revenue plan to be raised using grant money. Seems reasonable, right?

Well, your grant writer may bring up the very valid point that you’ve only been that successful because you’re incredibly picky about the type of grant you apply for. While the percentage looks impressive, there aren’t enough grants out there to meet the goal you’ve set. This is great insight and enables you to switch up your strategy to be as successful as possible.

The different stakeholders you should reach out to include:

Running the plan by everyone will help you make sure that the goals you’ve set are achievable and manageable by your team.

3. Determine Your Key Fundraising and Marketing Strategies.

You may consider doing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of your past fundraising to better understand what areas you’re already strong in and what could be improved.

Set the areas that need improvement at a lower fundraising goal than the aspects of your strategy that you already know you’re strong in. This way, you can try out different strategies to make these elements stronger without as much pressure.

For example, if you know your nonprofit has an incredible major giving program, specify that a large portion of your fundraising will likely come from this avenue. If you know that you could use improvement on your new donor retention rates, you might set that at a lower goal and use this as an opportunity to try out new things like calling new donors and setting up a welcome email series.

Some of the fundraising and marketing strategies your organization should take into consideration include:

Read up on the above strategies and think about which ones are the best options for your nonprofit’s capabilities. This judgment call should be based on your historic success with each avenue.

4. Establish SMART Objectives

Objectives help support your mission, acting like benchmarks to help you reach the larger goal. When you set objectives for your fundraising goals, you need to make sure they’re SMART:

For example, let’s say your goal is to: Reach a certain amount of money from individual contributions to your annual fund. 

Your objectives might look something like this:

Objectives are the how, when, where, and why of your nonprofit goals. Dive into the nitty-gritty of it all when you’re laying them out and writing them down.

5. Establish Specific Tactics to Support Each Objective

Your organization should use special supporting and reporting tactics to help keep your team accountable for reaching each of the objectives and (eventually) your development strategic plan’s overall fundraising goals.

Assign each team member an individual job that will help reach these goals. For example, take a look at the following chart:

A chart showcasing the nonprofit strategic planning objectives and activities

When everyone is clearly aware of their role at the organization and how their actions will impact the mission at large, you’ll make sure everything gets done. Plus, everyone will have a sense of direction to act as a part of the team and help accomplish goals.

In addition to your team members reprioritizing their activities, don’t forget that sometimes the right answer is automating tasks in order to free up more staff time. If you used to send out the monthly newsletter manually, or personally manage every social media post, consider investing in new software as part of your strategic plan.

Ask yourself some of the following questions.

Sometimes the answer to these questions leads you to invest in new nonprofit software , like matching gift automation software to improve your corporate philanthropy program or social media automation tools to standardize and schedule your posting.  

5. Analyze nonprofit strategic plan templates and examples.

Looking at examples and templates is a great place to start in your nonprofit strategic planning process. It can help give you ideas for what a plan generally looks like.

We’ve compiled a list of resources your nonprofit can use to start this planning process.

Nonprofit Strategic Plan Template

Generally, strategic plans take the form of something that looks similar to this:

a nonprofit strategic planning template that features organization name, goals, objectives and tasks

If you’re looking for more in-depth templates to best plan out different aspects of your strategy, check out these downloadable templates:

Nonprofit Strategic Plan Examples

Here are links to some strategic plans from other nonprofit organizations for you to analyze and consider while you plan your own:

Your organization should be prepared to structure and create your own nonprofit’s plan between templates and examples.

Nonprofit strategic planning is simply a formality for too many organizations. Development or executive directors put together a plan to stick it in a drawer and never review it again. Don’t be that organization!

Don’t just check off the “strategic plan” box for your nonprofit. Instead, use the information and resources in this guide to create a comprehensive and valuable plan that you’ll use to grow your organization.

Want to learn more about effective planning and nonprofit management? Check out these additional resources:

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Strategic Plan

nonprofit strategic plan

A nonprofit strategic plan is the formal process an organization creates to accomplish their goals and objectives for the year. It’s often a guiding document that is used to turn goals into actions.   

What is a nonprofit strategic plan?

A strategic plan is a formal guide that describes how an organization will meet its goals and objectives in the upcoming year. It’s the overarching plan for the entire organization, and it acts as a flow chart. Each step of the plan leads to another step that ultimately leads to success if the steps are completed. 

A strategic plan starts with a series of goals and objectives that will guide an organization’s actions for the upcoming year. For example, an animal shelter might focus on building a new wing in their shelter. A strategic plan will help keep them focused on accomplishing this goal by breaking it down into manageable and trackable steps. 

Types of strategic plans

There are many types of strategic plans. Which one is right for an organization will depend on the organization’s goals.

Here are five different types of strategic plans:

For more detail on each of these plans, see the complete Bloomerang guide to nonprofit strategic planning . 

Creating a strategic plan

Strategic plans should include SMART goals . 

SMART stands for:

When it comes to an organization’s strategic plan, it’s important to set specific and measurable goals, with clear directions on who is in charge of which action, so that the plan can be tracked and monitored to better ensure success.

This plan will often work in a top-down fashion, which means each step of the plan must be followed in order to accomplish the ultimate goal. Going back to the example above of the shelter trying to build a new wing, here is an example of how this might work:

Objective: To get a new wing.

In reality, this would be a much more specific and detailed plan. However, this example is just to demonstrate a few key things:

Bottom line

A strategic plan acts as a blueprint for the organization and helps increase the likelihood of reaching goals and objectives. 

Related resources:

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How to Write a Nonprofit Strategic Plan: Ultimate 2023 Guide

You may have heard of nonprofit strategic planning and felt overwhelmed by the concept. But there’s no need to worry! In this post, we are going to walk you through what a strategic plan is and help provide some insights into how to write the right type of strategic plan for your nonprofit.

We will also include some examples of good nonprofit strategic plans as well as common mistakes to avoid. If you’re ready to develop a strategic plan of any type, then continue reading to learn more about what can seem like a daunting topic.

What is a Nonprofit Strategic Plan?


A nonprofit strategic plan is a document that helps drive and guide all of the work of your nonprofit. A good strategic plan will lay out the major goals and objectives you hope to achieve and specific steps for reaching those goals and objectives.

It is important to recognize that a strategic plan is not a linear document. You should think of your nonprofit strategic plan more like a flow chart as it needs to connect all of the pieces of your nonprofit to each other.

If you are working on creating a strategic plan for your nonprofit, you will need to start by understanding the different types of strategic plans. You can use the list below to help determine which type best fits the needs of your nonprofit.

While there are many different strategic planning models, the five that we have listed are most common among nonprofits.

1. Standard

A standard planning model is used when internal and external conditions are calm and your nonprofit is operating normally. If you are creating your first strategic plan or updating a current strategic plan within your nonprofit, you will likely use this model.

When following the standard planning method, the first step is to define the overall mission of your nonprofit and lay out goals aligned with this mission.

The next step is to create a plan to reach these goals which includes specific tasks, who is assigned to each task, and a clear timeline for achieving these goals.

It is common to create a strategic plan that lays out goals for three or five years at a time. By planning a few years at a time, your nonprofit can stay focused on achievable goals while also tying these into a larger picture.

2. Issue-based

An issue-based planning method can help your nonprofit overcome turbulence that is caused by internal changes. Perhaps you have a change in leadership or high staff turnover which is making it hard to reach your goals.

In these situations, an issue-based planning model can help your nonprofit get back on track. To use this model, you will identify the factors that are limiting the success of your nonprofit and determine the best ways to address each of these factors.

It is important to closely monitor your success as you work to tackle the limiting factors and adjust the plan as needed to get your nonprofit back on track.

An organic planning model may be needed when there are external conditions impacting the operations of your nonprofit. You may also hear this type of plan referred to as non-linear.

The organic planning model is commonly used when you are aware of upcoming climate changes that can impact the work of your nonprofit. For example, there may be political changes coming which could warrant the need for an organic planning model.

To effectively use this planning method, you would typically take your staff on a retreat so that they can focus solely on the planning process. It is key to identify the strengths of each team member and use this information to help create actionable goals for each person.

Once the goals and a timeline are determined, you meet together regularly (quarterly for example) to update everyone on progress toward each goal.

Meeting regularly allows your nonprofit to adjust goals as needed and the team can help each other reach their goals.

4. Real-time

The real-time model is most commonly used when a nonprofit is facing an internal or external crisis that requires a shift in normal operations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a great example of a time when a real-time planning model would be needed. The impacts of this type of issue come quickly and unexpectedly.

A real-time planning model focuses on short-term goals that will help your nonprofit make it through the crisis. An important step of this plan is to meet regularly with your whole team to see how things are going.

A real-time strategic plan would likely only last for one year or maybe even less depending on what type of crisis your nonprofit is facing. The real-time plan would supersede any traditional strategic plan that your nonprofit already had in place.

5. Alignment

The alignment model is recommended to help your nonprofit get all teams, groups, or departments working in tandem. There may be times when departments or teams within your nonprofit have gotten out of sync.

You could use an alignment model strategic plan to get all staff back on the same page to help your nonprofit be effective and efficient at reaching its goals.

No matter which model you decide to use, keep in mind that a strategic plan is all about setting goals and creating a path to reach those goals. It’s also important to remember that every strategic plan is a living document.

Even though it is common to create a plan that lays out three to five years of goals, the plan can be changed or updated at any time. In fact, it is good to review the plan regularly because conditions within and outside of your nonprofit are constantly changing.

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Why Does My Organization Need a Nonprofit Strategic Plan?


Now that we have walked you through what a nonprofit strategic plan is and the different types of strategic plans, it is important to understand why your nonprofit needs one.

Hopefully the answer became clear as you read our introduction to strategic plans, but these plans are important documents because they help focus the work of your nonprofit. Mapping out the major goals for your nonprofit and a clear plan for how to reach them will help your organization be successful.

Another key reason why your nonprofit may want (or need) to have a strategic plan is related to grant writing . Many grantmakers will ask for your strategic plan or at least ask how your proposed project aligns with your nonprofit’s strategic plan.

Your strategic plan can also help you determine whether or not a specific grant is a good fit for your nonprofit.

A solid strategic plan can also help your nonprofit weather difficult situations when needed (such as a real-time strategic plan). Anyone interested in working with your nonprofit, whether it be donors, grantmakers, partners, or others will appreciate a well defined strategic plan as it indicates the stability of your nonprofit.

Because a good strategic plan lays out clear goals and timelines for reaching them, it will also help your staff, board, and others understand their roles in your organization. Your plan will help keep team members on task and help them understand the importance of their work.

The process of creating a strategic plan is also a great way to help all team members understand how valuable they are to the success of your nonprofit.

5 Steps to Create a Nonprofit Strategic Plan


1. Understand Your Mission

While it may sound strange to list understanding your mission, any good strategic plan starts with the basics.

Because all goals and objectives need to align with your mission, you must first make sure that everyone involved in the strategic planning process truly understands the mission of your nonprofit.

Even if you feel that your mission is clear, discussing it as part of the planning process will help you understand why you do what you do. Reviewing this information will make it easier to create clear goals and objectives.

Check out our post on writing a good nonprofit mission statement to make sure that your mission statement is working for you and is aligned with your goals and objectives.

2. SWOT Analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Completing a SWOT analysis involves identifying all items within each of these categories for your nonprofit.

The process of identifying strengths, weaknesses, obstacles, and threats will help your nonprofit understand what actions need to be taken to reach desired goals and objectives.

Typically, this type of analysis is focused on all items related to your nonprofit, not just those specific to the goals and objectives within your strategic plan. It is also important to complete this analysis often as the items in each category can change frequently.

Below is an example of a SWOT analysis chart or map which is a good way to visualize the information within this type of analysis. You can check out this example and more SWOT analysis charts here .

Nonprofit SWOT analysis chart

3. Choose the Strategic Planning Model

Completing a review of your mission as well as a SWOT analysis will help your nonprofit identify its needs.

You can use the information from the SWOT analysis to understand what is keeping your nonprofit from being successful. Once you understand the current obstacles and threats, you can determine the type of planning model that best suits the current needs of your nonprofit.

For example, if you have a current obstacle of high staff turnover, you may want to use an issue-based planning model. Or perhaps your nonprofit identifies an upcoming threat due to a planned departure of your executive director. In this case, an issue-based plan would also be a good fit.

Having a clear understanding of the current needs of your nonprofit as well as what stands in your way will help you create the right type of strategic plan for your organization.

4. Set SMART Goals and Objectives

Now that you have evaluated your mission, completed a SWOT analysis, and chosen the right type of planning model, you should be ready to set goals specific to your strategic plan.

Setting SMART (Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based) goals will help you create a clear path for reaching these goals.

An example of a general goal would be “increasing the reach of our educational programs”. To make this a SMART goal, you would get more specific such as “we will reach 300 new students through 10 separate reading programs between June 1, 2023 and May 31, 2023.”

5. Clearly Assign Tasks

One of the most important parts of a good strategic plan is being specific. The goal of this document is to help your nonprofit be successful in reaching specific objectives, therefore it needs to include specific tasks.

Your staff need to understand their role(s) in helping to reach the goals and objectives of the nonprofit. You also want to include timelines for these tasks so that you can monitor progress.

Keep in mind that because you have assigned specific tasks with timelines, you can adjust your strategic plan as needed. The document is not set in stone, so if you find things are not working out as you intended, adjustments can be made.

Common Mistakes When Making The Nonprofit Strategic Plan


Building an effective nonprofit strategic plan can seem intimidating to even the most seasoned nonprofit staff. To help you understand how to write a successful nonprofit strategic plan, we have identified a few of the common mistakes so that we can help you avoid them.

Not Being Specific

A key part of creating a good nonprofit strategic plan is to write actionable steps for achieving your intended goals and outcomes.

If you are not specific with your plans, it will be difficult to be successful in reaching your goals. A good nonprofit strategic plan will include specific tasks that are assigned to specific people and mapped out over time.

Not Involving Your Whole Team

Another important factor when learning how to write a good nonprofit strategic plan is to make sure to involve your whole team.

For your nonprofit, this team may simply be a board of directors, or it may be a larger staff as well. While each person may not be involved in every step of the planning process, they all need to be included on some scale because they will be the ones completing the work to reach the goals that you set.

It is also important to involve your whole team when completing your SWOT analysis as those involved in day-to-day nonprofit operations will understand the strengths, weaknesses, obstacles, and threats better than anyone.

Thinking the Document Is Set In Stone

We have mentioned a few times that a good nonprofit strategic plan needs to be a living document. Because both the internal and external climate surrounding any nonprofit change constantly, your strategic plan may need to change as well.

While you may create a strategic plan that maps out three to five years of plans (depending what type of planning model you use), it is important to continually monitor and reevaluate your successes and failures.

Planning Too Far Ahead

While a standard nonprofit strategic plan typically focuses on three to five years, you need to make sure you don’t plan too far ahead.

Your nonprofit needs to determine a feasible timeline that fits its specific goals and objectives so that it can be successful. You do not want to create a strategic plan just to say that you have one; you want to make sure you can successfully achieve the goals included in the plan.

If you try to plan too far ahead, it will be difficult to understand how daily tasks are actually impacting your success. Planning too far ahead can also become overwhelming and hamper the success of your nonprofit.

Best Nonprofit Strategic Plan Examples


One of the best ways to learn how to build a strong nonprofit strategic plan is to review examples from other nonprofits. We have created a list of what we feel are some great examples, but there are many out there.

Because your strategic plan is often a public document, you can find many examples simply through an internet search. We wanted to be sure to highlight some that we feel are well put together and demonstrate the information we have shared.

1. The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is a national nonprofit focused on helping to protect natural places across the United States. We have chosen to highlight the strategic plan created by the Pennsylvania and Delaware chapter.

Their strategic plan does a great job of laying out clear goals and objectives, while also keeping things simple so that the plan is accessible to anyone. You will see that they break down the plan into geographic/project focus areas which is a great way to organize the information.

The nature conservancy also uses a great layout that makes the document easy to read and understand.

Another clean and organized nonprofit strategic plan that is a good example comes from YWCA of Greater Cleveland . We have chosen their strategic plan because they very clearly lay out their goals and their plans to reach them.

Similar to the plan from The Nature Conservancy, YWCA uses photos and graphics to make the document easy to read and digest by the public.

3. Philadelphia Museum of Art

Another great example of a good nonprofit strategic plan comes from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Their strategic plan is clearly organized into key focus areas which include goals and steps for achievement.

SImilar to our first two example strategic plans, the Philadelphia Museum of Art uses images and a clean layout to make their plan easy to follow. We also like how this nonprofit uses active words for their goals such as engaging and activating.

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4. St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital

St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital is a well known nonprofit focused on curing childhood cancer and other childhood diseases.

Their strategic plan stood out to us because it is available through their website as a live document. What we mean by this is that you can actually click through the pages as if you were holding a physical copy of the strategic plan.

Because this nonprofit focuses on medical research, their strategic plan is a bit more in-depth so that readers can see the types of work they are planning. Their plan still focuses on clearly defined goals with details about their plans for success.

They also use visuals throughout to break up the text of the strategic plan. Even though their strategic plan is a bit more text heavy, they make sure to break things down in a way that stakeholders can understand.

5. Horizons Atlanta

Our final example nonprofit strategic plan comes from Horizons Atlanta which is an organization focused on helping youth become valuable members of their communities.

We chose their strategic plan as one of our examples because they use a good structure that clearly lays out their strategic priorities early in the document.

They break down the details associated with each strategy later on, but having all priorities identified early helps those that may just want to understand the basics of the plan.

We also liked the way that they provide some good background on their nonprofit at the beginning of the plan to help those that may not be familiar with their work.

Keep in mind that a grantmaker or any other stakeholder reviewing this document may be hearing of your nonprofit for the first time. A good strategic plan will include some background which will also help put the goals and plans in perspective.

Wrapping Up: How to Write a Nonprofit Strategic Plan


We have broken down what a nonprofit strategic plan is and provided some insights into how to create a good nonprofit strategic plan. We also provided several example nonprofit strategic plans for your review.

The background information we have provided should help you feel more comfortable with creating an effective nonprofit strategic plan. Understand your mission, complete a SWOT analysis, and create clear goals.

Using these clear goals as the backbone of your strategic plan will help your nonprofit be successful in reaching your goals. You can also find many more example nonprofit strategic plans through a simple google search which can help you find inspiration for what works for your nonprofit.

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One of the board’s primary responsibilities is to set direction for the organization through strategic planning.

A strategic plan or framework serves as a roadmap and as a tool for assessing progress. Working side-by-side with staff leadership, your board should play an active and substantive role in developing, approving, and supporting your organization’s strategic planning.

The nature of strategic planning is changing, however, in response to the turbulence caused by the most recent recession and the challenge of planning in a constantly changing environment. Plans must be adaptable and reviewed regularly. At the same time, some nonprofit leaders have found that planning in a dynamic environment presents an opportunity to think differently.

Nonprofit leaders are encouraged to incorporate the Purpose-Driven Board Leadership principles to guide your strategic planning process. While this centers around the four principles, in particular, equity mindset and authorized voice and power, can drive the change that most organizations need to take board leadership and thinking to new heights. It is vitally important that organizations incorporate and amplify the voices of the communities served to remove any systemic inequities and lead to greater social impact. As you clarify your organization’s strategic priorities, you may find that they are best accomplished in partnership with others. Consider a strategic alliance with another organization to accelerate your mission work and unlock new opportunities for impact.

BoardSource has also seen a shift away from traditional strategic plans based on three- to five-year time horizons and long planning processes. There has been a move toward strategic frameworks articulating organizational priorities, business plans that combine programmatic and operational goals with financial forecasts, as well as more robust annual plans with clear metrics and timelines.

Whether the path is more traditional or a new framework,  the most important planning tool a nonprofit has is the strategic planning process, and this should reflect a shared board and staff vision of the organization’s role, values, and priorities. It should also include a clear focus on the purpose of your organization and the community it serves. Nonprofits need to ensure that those most impacted by the plans have a voice in the planning. According to Leading with Intent, strategic planning remains among the top areas in need of board improvement, and the following resources are designed to help.

The following resources are designed to help boards improve their performance in the area of strategic planning. According to Leading with Intent , strategic planning remains among the top areas in need of board improvement.

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How to build a strategic plan for your nonprofit (with template)

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Every organization needs a strategic plan—even if you’re a nonprofit. A strategic plan helps you define who you are, what you want to achieve, and how you’ll get there. Use our template to walk through the three steps of creating a strategic plan: Assessing your situation, developing your strategy and building your plan.

If you’re not quite sure where to start and how a strategic plan will help your nonprofit grow, this article is for you. Learn what a strategic plan for nonprofit organizations should entail, how to write one, and check out our template for further inspiration.

What is a nonprofit strategic plan?

A nonprofit strategic plan is a tool that helps you define where your nonprofit organization wants to go and what actions you will take to achieve your goals.

At its core, the process for nonprofits doesn’t differ too much from the strategic planning process other organizations and industries embark on. Regardless of your form of work, you need a strategic plan to define where your organization wants to go and what actions you need to take in order to get there.

This plan should be updated every three to five years to ensure your organization continues challenging itself and growing.

[inline illustration] what is a strategic plan (infographic)

Before you can create an action plan or a roadmap for your nonprofit that drives results, you need to walk through the following three steps of strategic planning:

Step 1: Assess your current situation

Step 2: Develop your strategy

Step 3: build your strategic plan.

Once you’ve built your strategic plan, you can set KPIs and schedule the milestones your organization needs to hit in order to be successful.

Whether you’re creating a strategic plan for the first time or updating your existing one, it’s important that you consult and involve the right people in this process. Create a strategic planning team that consists of senior executives, board members, and key team members who can contribute to the long-term success of your nonprofit.

We’ll walk you through the steps your strategic planning team will take on this journey and provide a template that you can use to assist your team during this process. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Assess your situation

Before you can figure out where you want to go, you need to assess where you are right now. Gather all the information you can about your nonprofit so your strategic planning team has a clear understanding of who you are and where you’re at.

Demographics: While some of these questions may seem trivial, it’s a good idea to start with questions that are easy to answer and align your strategic planning team.

How big is your organization?

Where are you located?

What is your annual net asset?

How many people do you employ?

What is your target demographic?

Success and goals: Before you dive into the details, it’s good practice to give yourself credit for the things you’ve accomplished in the past. First of all, this will give you better clarity on your strengths and opportunities (which you’ll analyze in more depth later). But this also puts your strategic planning team in a positive and optimistic mood which will make the process much easier and more enjoyable.

What were your biggest accomplishments so far?

Do you have any goals set for the future?

How thought-out are these goals, and do they meet SMART goal criteria ?

Capital: As a nonprofit, money may not be your main driver. However, in order to make an impact, you need capital. So ask yourself where you’re currently getting your revenue.

Does the government fund you?

How successful has fundraising been in the past?

Who are your donors or sponsors?

What other revenue streams do you have?

Are there any revenue sources you haven’t considered yet?

What does your grant management process typically look like?

Stakeholders: A stakeholder analysis is key in strategic planning. Your internal and external stakeholders are the people who can impact the success of your organization, so you need to know who they are and what their roles are. 

Internal stakeholders are team members who are directly impacted by the strategic plan and likely the ones who are already on your strategic planning team. External stakeholders are usually agencies, clients, or other parties who are involved financially or contribute otherwise to the performance of your organization.

Who are our top stakeholders (internal and external)?

Why do they believe in our nonprofit?

What do we need from them (e.g., labor, capital, marketing, etc.)?

Why do we believe and trust in these stakeholders?

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats: Finally, you’ll want to conduct a SWOT analysis to find out  your internal strengths and weaknesses and how external threats and opportunities can influence your nonprofit’s success. 

What makes us stand out from other nonprofits in the industry?

What past events have impacted our success and why?

Are there any weaknesses that have prevented us from reaching our full potential in the past?

Once you’ve completed your SWOT analysis, you’re ready for the next step: developing your nonprofit’s strategy.

In this phase of the strategic planning process, you’ll take the information you’ve gathered in step one and put your heads together to define who you want to be as an organization—more precisely, you’ll define your values, mission, and vision statements .

[inline illustration] Mission, vision, and values definition (infographic)

Mission and vision statement

You’ll want to start out with your mission and vision statements. If you already have these statements in place, review and consider updating them to match your new strategy.

It’s not always easy to come up with vision and mission statements for your nonprofit organization. That’s why it can be helpful to check out how others have put their dreams into writing. Take a look at three examples of how nonprofit organizations define their vision and mission:

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s mission and vision statements are very closely intertwined. The organization’s mission is to “Create a world where every person has the opportunity to live a healthy, productive life.” Their vision is to help all people lead a healthy and productive life.

The American Red Cross

The mission statement of the American Red Cross is to prevent and alleviate “Human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.​”

Their vision statement reads as follows: “The American Red Cross, through its strong network of volunteers, donors and partners, is always there in times of need. We aspire to turn compassion into action.”

The Research Foundation for The State University of New York

The Research Foundation of SUNY’s mission is to provide “Talent, services, and technology that empower SUNY to research, innovate, and transfer discoveries that transform the world’s knowledge economy.”

Their vision is to “Make it the best place for faculty, students and staff to research, innovate, and solve the world’s most pressing problems.”

Company values

Next, you’ll want to define your nonprofit’s core values . Try to define anywhere between five to 10 values that describe your organization and align with your mission and vision.

Here are some examples of values that could describe your nonprofit:





Assessing where you’re at and defining who you are are two crucial steps in the strategic planning process. They build the foundation for your strategic plan that you’re ready to create now that you’ve put in the groundwork.

The heart of your strategic plan consists of your strategic priorities and goals for the future. They will inspire your implementation plan and ultimately define how effective and successful your new strategy will be. 

You should pick at least three main strategic priorities based on what you’ve learned from your SWOT analysis. For example, if your SWOT analysis showed that you only have a couple of revenue sources, you could make “diversifying revenue streams” a strategic priority. 

Your strategic priorities don’t have to be super built out—that’s what happens in the next and final step of your strategic plan.

Step 4: Create SMART goals

Creating SMART objectives is crucial so you can successfully put your new strategy into action.

Your SMART goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. For example, to diversify your revenue streams, your SMART goal could be:

“Over the next three years, we plan to add at least seven new revenue streams to our repertoire by applying to one new government fund per quarter, hosting monthly fundraisers on social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter), and bi-annual in-person charity events.”

Nonprofit strategic plan template and example

Use our template to build a strategic plan for your nonprofit that drives results. Don’t forget to include stakeholders, your board of directors, and key staff members in your strategic planning process—their insight and ideas will shape the future of your company.

Here is what your nonprofit strategic plan can look like once you start working on it:

[inline illustration] nonprofit strategic plan template (example)

You can download the template using the button below and modify it to your organization’s needs.

Put your plan into action

After you’ve built your strategic plan, there’s just one step left: put it into action. Implementing your strategic plan is both rewarding and scary. All the hard work you put into building a strategy for your nonprofit is about to come to fruition.

With the support of Asana’s goal-setting software, you can turn your strategic plan into actionable steps so you can easily track, manage, and share your strategic initiatives with shareholders and teammates.

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Washington State Nonprofit Conference 2023!

Strategic Planning in Nonprofits (SPiN) covers six planning elements: preparing, listening, envisioning, planning, executing, and evaluating. SPiN anchors each unit in why it matters and provides tools to help learners act on what they learn to better achieve their nonprofit’s mission.

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Strategic Planning in Nonprofits Guide

Start by downloading the Strategic Planning in Nonprofits Guide. As you work through the guide, watch the video for each chapter. Find activities, templates, and other documents to help put what you learned into practice in the document vault. Keep on learning with other resources on nonprofit governance, finance, and more.

What We Cover in Strategic Planning in Nonprofits


Start by reviewing the stages of Strategic Planning. You will get an overview of the content covered in the subsequent chapters.

A key to successful Strategic Planning is “planning to plan”. To achieve a thoughtful plan that is truly strategic, you’ll need an effective process that is inclusive, transparent, and well-informed.

When an organization’s leadership knows about the people you serve and other relevant data about your program and organization, your strategy improves, and you gain respect among your key audiences. You will be able to tell your story better, and your relationships and community impact will grow.

When your organization invests time to develop or renew a powerful mission and vision, you will be able to answer the questions “Who are we?” and “Why do we exist?”, have a strong connection to your organization’s core purpose, and set the stage for a strong, well-grounded strategy.

It is important to clarify what specific areas of focus and strategies you will use to achieve your mission. Planning helps you to chart a course to turn your vision into reality; determine what actions best support your Mission and Vision; ensure that your plan is right-sized and achievable by analyzing resource and capacity issues; inspire others to take action to help your organization to succeed.

We have all heard stories about plans that sit on the shelf and are never referred to again. You have just done a lot of work to set the strategic direction of your organization and get everyone on the same page. Be sure to continue to utilize the plan framework and hold yourselves accountable to reach your goals.

Evaluation will help you learn whether your activities are producing the desired results or change you are seeking to accomplish, gain new insights into how you can improve your programs and increase your impact; demonstrate to funders and donors that your work is making a difference; and give you data that can serve as a foundation for your next strategic plan.

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Strategic Planning

Strategic planning (also referred to as business planning) is a process nonprofits use to make critical trade-offs to best achieve their goals. While these processes have varying degrees of formality and take different forms, they are clearly distinct from routine management activities and are intended to guide and inform key decisions toward specific organizational aims throughout the year.

How it's used

Organizations use strategic planning to provide a structured process to define success for an organization, determine the operational and programmatic steps to get there, and align resources and staff to achieve the goal within a given time frame. Strategic planning typically involves examining an organization's intended impact and theory of change , and rigorous analysis of the organization's internal capabilities, full program costs, external environment, and donor and beneficiary trends to identify opportunities with the greatest potential for impact.

Strategic planning processes often result in a written document that can be used as an internal reference and a road map for accountability and decision making, a resource for new staff, and a tool for measuring success. Written strategic plans can also be used for external purposes, such as attracting funders and partners, and communicating about the organization to beneficiaries and other constituents.


Strategic planning requires organizations to get clear on their mission and goals, current operations, and pathway to success. There are four critical steps, although the process is often iterative:

Related topics

Additional resources

Strategic and Business Planning for Nonprofits This wide-ranging list of resources for strategic and business planning is curated by the National Council of Nonprofits.

Business Planning for Nonprofits: What It Is and Why It Matters This comprehensive article outlines critical steps in the strategic planning process, illuminating processes with examples.

Business Planning for Nonprofits: The Organizational and Leadership Benefits This article demonstrates three potential benefits of business planning—aligning staff and board members around a strategy, developing a leadership team's capacity for strategic thinking, and identifying the capabilities and positions needed to advance the organization—as demonstrated by the experience of MY TURN, Inc.

Examples and case studies

YES Prep: Preparing Low-Income Students for High School, College, and Beyond Incorporating video, text and sample documents, this case study explores the nuts-and-bolts details of how YES Prep Public Schools, a charter organization based in Houston, Texas, succeeds in preparing low-income students not only to graduate from high school, but also to enter college ready to meet the challenges of a post-secondary education.

The Steppingstone Foundation: Managing Growth This magazine article examines how a Boston educational-services nonprofit used strategic planning to create a path for growth.

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The Complete Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning

This guide will review how to create a nonprofit strategic plan.

It’s no different for your nonprofit. Sure, you might have a strong guiding mission motivated by a worthy cause, but you still need a roadmap to carry out that mission effectively. Strategic planning gives your organization the foundation it needs to weather any storms and stay on track to complete your goals.

Your organization may desire a strategic plan to help get through a specific initiative or unexpected event, or you may just want guidelines for the years ahead. Either way, this comprehensive guide will provide you with the framework you need to optimize your operations, grow your organization and reach your fundraising goals.

In this guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about nonprofit strategic planning, including:

Nonprofit Strategic Planning FAQs

Benefits of strategic planning for nonprofits, key steps for creating a nonprofit strategic plan, the essential nonprofit strategic plan template, tips for maintaining your nonprofit’s strategic plan.

After completing the essential steps of developing your nonprofit’s strategic plan, you’ll be in a strong position to lead your organization to success. You’ll ultimately be able to use this plan to fulfill your mission more efficiently and work more effectively in your community or toward your cause.

What is a strategic plan for nonprofits? 

A nonprofit strategic plan is a bold plan of action that aligns an organization’s goals with its values to provide a dynamic performance map for future endeavors. 

A nonprofit strategic plan is a bold plan of action for future activities.

It is, of course, impossible to anticipate all of the slowdowns or obstacles that might arise throughout a specified time period. However, a strategic plan allows organizations to face any challenges with a unified mindset driven by an overarching blueprint. 

The strategic planning process involves assessing your organization’s current situation, consulting with team members and formalizing findings into an action plan. 

Why should your nonprofit create a strategic plan?

Without a strategic plan, it’s very challenging to keep your organization on track and complete goals in an efficient manner. 

As mentioned, there are numerous benefits of nonprofit strategic planning, from simplifying decision-making to helping achieve goals promptly. These benefits are multiplied when your board members and staff leaders are engaged and in agreement with your nonprofit’s strategic plan from the start. 

Involving your top leaders and decision-makers in strategic planning ensures these important stakeholders feel a sense of ownership over the plan. This leads to greater accountability when carrying out the plan because each individual feels more responsible for seeing it come to fruition.

Additional benefits of strategic planning include: 

This graphic displays the benefits of nonprofit strategic planning.

If you decide to invest the time and energy into strategic planning, the benefits can positively influence your organization for years to come. 

Nonprofits have plenty of different options for techniques and models to use to craft their strategic plan. The way you choose to develop your plan depends on your goals, needs, the unique situation within your organization and the climate of your community or cause area. 

No matter what the circumstances are, all nonprofits can benefit from a well-thought-out, structured planning process. 

Aly Sterling Philanthropy recommends an individualized strategic planning model that focuses on strengthening your organization’s financial health, capacity, effectiveness and relevance within the community. The process involves a partnership with an experienced nonprofit consultant who brings robust planning tools and resources, and your nonprofit leaders themselves who bring insider knowledge of your organization.

The essential steps of this strategic planning approach include: 

There are three steps to the Aly Sterling Philanthropy strategic planning process: assess, align, and act.

The strategic planning process begins with a pre-planning session between the consultant and organizational leaders. In this meeting, you’ll take a deep dive into your organization to assess its history, infrastructure, core programs and vision for the future.

Another element of the pre-planning process is surveying stakeholders to gather insights and opinions. Depending on your nonprofit’s situation, your stakeholders may include:

When conducting these interviews, it’s important to choose participants carefully. Seek a variety of perspectives and don’t just survey those with nothing but glowing reviews. Get in touch with those who’ve expressed discontent with certain aspects of your organization. These perspectives can provide the tough love needed to help your organization grow and become more effective. 

Supporter surveys are also a great way to continue your supporter stewardship efforts. Supporters are typically flattered to be asked to participate and offer their points of view. 

The next step Aly Sterling Philanthropy recommends is engaging your board and staff members in a dynamic strategic planning retreat. This encourages organizational leaders to consolidate and discuss their thoughts in a dedicated, action-oriented forum.  

Within this short, half-day retreat, leaders will establish priorities and start to visualize what success looks like with the help of the consultant. In this time, the consultant will build consensus and seek suggestions for short and long-term opportunities and hurdles. 

In the final strategic planning step, the consultant will summarize their findings and offer a recommended plan of action to nonprofit leadership. The consultant will review the highlights and top insights from the planning retreat to highlight key priorities. 

This partner will continue to provide dedicated support as your nonprofit identifies responsibilities for each leader, key objectives, performance indicators, and a timeline for completion. This encourages accountability throughout the implementation process.

In the Aly Sterling Philanthropy strategic planning model, a consultant will lead your team through each step of the process. This specialist facilitates everything from managing the stakeholder surveys to the planning retreat and final strategic plan document.

By the end of the strategic planning process, your organization will be equipped with a dynamic plan of action. 

Your organization’s strategic plan will be based on several guiding pillars. These pillars are the elements within your organization that require the most attention. In this section, we’ll present a template for what your organization’s plan might look like and explain each element.

Let’s walk through an example of a strategic plan for a nonprofit that focuses on these five pillars:

These are the five key pillars of a nonprofit strategic plan.

Here’s an example plan for the fictional XYZ Foundation. The first page of this strategic plan summarizes each of these pillars, including the specific goal and action steps associated with each:

This is an example nonprofit strategic plan.

Use this blank version to add your nonprofit’s pillars and action steps:

Use this blank template to input the details of your nonprofit's strategic plan.

Next, you can break down each pillar into its own chart to pinpoint specific actions and tasks associated with every priority:

Use this template to lay out the action steps associated with each of your organization's strategic planning priorities.

For each priority, determine the associated action steps, timeline/milestones, leaders, necessary resources and future/ongoing actions:

These documents will provide a tangible resource your team can turn to for guidance as they carry out your strategic plan. Fill out these templates using your organization’s top priorities and tasks associated with each step.

The time, energy, and funding you spend on strategic planning is an investment in your organization’s future. Don’t let that investment go to waste by failing to carry out your organization’s strategic plan to the fullest. 

Wrapping Up

While you can certainly take an in-house approach to strategic planning, a dynamic action plan can sometimes be challenging to build from the inside. It often takes the third-party perspective of a consultant to take an unbiased look at your organization and offer objective and realistic guidance. 

Browse top nonprofit consultant options using this list , or contact us here at Aly Sterling Philanthropy if you’re ready to kick start your organization’s strategic planning process. 

In addition to strategic planning, Aly Sterling Philanthropy also offers fundraising solutions and a board assessment service to maximize the performance of your nonprofit’s board. 

For more information on nonprofit strategic planning, check out the following resources:

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Mastering Strategic Planning for Nonprofits

strategic planning for nonprofits

No matter if you’re a for-profit business or a charitable nonprofit organization, staying up-to-date on what is happening in your specific field is vital in order to be successful. Strategic planning for nonprofits is one of the best ways to do this is to keep track of what industry leaders are doing and how they are adapting to the current landscape of your field.

One tool that industry-leading businesses and organizations use to grow and improve is a  strategic plan. That term may sound complex, but this article will explain what a strategic plan is, how to build one, and demonstrate how industry-leading nonprofit organizations are strategic planning. Let’s start by determining what exactly a strategic plan is.

What is Strategic Planning for Nonprofits?

A strategic plan is a document that your organization creates that lays out the main goals of the organization for the future, whether that means the coming year or the next five years. These goals are also accompanied by specific, actionable tasks that will help your nonprofit organization stay on track and achieve those goals. The strategic plan is essentially a road map demonstrating where your organization currently is, where you want to get, and how, exactly, you plan to get there.

Furthermore, a strategic plan doesn’t just reflect the views of one person or group of people, it is a collection of information revolving around everyone in the entire organization. Setting goals is great, but to reach those goals you need actionable tasks which then means you need someone to perform those tasks, usually your nonprofit’s staff members .

In order to create a useful strategic plan with achievable goals, everyone in your organization has to communicate with each other about the work they are capable of doing, how that work fits into the overall plan, the potential shortcomings, and how everyone will stay on track in order to reach their goals. One of the tools that nonprofit organizations use to determine all of this information is the SWOT system.

The SWOT system stands for Strengths (internal), Weaknesses (internal), Opportunities (external), and Threats (external). This system helps build a better picture of your organization as a whole, but it can also show the capabilities of different departments, groups, and individuals within the organization. This will help you understand what you are already good at and what you can work to improve on.

For example, by determining the strengths and weaknesses of a certain staff member, you may realize that they are very good with face-to-face interactions. With that information, you can then decide to put them in charge of donor relations, which would be even more beneficial if one of your goals is to increase donor retention.

Now that we’ve dealt with what a strategic plan is, let’s focus on the specific factors that go into building a strategic plan as well as the various strategic planning models.

How Do You Build a Strategic Plan?

The next thing for your nonprofit to do is actually build a strategic plan. There are several types of strategic plans that your organization can build depending on your current situation. We’ll lay out the different models, what organizations they are good for, and the steps you should take to construct your strategic plan.

Here are the five main types of strategic planning models:

Standard Strategic Planning Model

This is the simplest and most common strategic planning model. It is best for nonprofit organizations whose situation is relatively stable. In this model, you’ll want to:

Since this is the most common model, here is an example to give you an idea of what it looks like.

Issue-Based Strategic Model

This strategic planning model is used for nonprofits who have internal or management issues within their organization. This model is focused on getting back on track as opposed to setting new goals. Here are the steps to take:

Organic Strategic Planning Model

This strategic planning model applies to nonprofits who operate within an unpredictable or unstable external climate. In this model, everyone in your nonprofit will come together to strengthen their understanding of the mission and goals of the organization while also thinking of useful steps to close in on that goal before the next group meeting. The actions for this model are:

Real-Time Strategic Planning Model

This strategic planning model is for nonprofit organizations that are experiencing an immediate internal or external crisis. This includes things like economic recessions, COVID-19, or natural disasters. The focus here is on short-term goals and getting through the crisis. Here’s how:

Alignment Strategic Planning Model

This strategic planning model applies to nonprofits who have productive individual departments, but lack proper communication. In this model, you will focus on bringing the entire organization into a cohesive unit through the following steps:

Determining which model is the best fit for your nonprofit organization will make building a strategic plan to reach your goals much more manageable. Another thing that is important to keep in mind when crafting a strategic plan is to revisit the plan. Don’t just throw it aside after making it. This is your roadmap to achieving your goals. Even if you accomplish all of your goals, your strategic plan is a valuable resource going forward for what your nonprofit can accomplish and how it can do it.

Now that we have a better understanding of how to build strategic plans and the various models you can use, let’s explore what industry-leading nonprofits are doing for strategic planning.

What are Industry Leaders Doing?

As mentioned earlier, one of the best practices for making your organization successful is to pay attention to what industry leaders are doing. Since industry-leading organizations all tend to use strategic plans, we’ll now examine some of those plans and discuss how these organizations are planning for their futures. Most of these organizations will use the standard strategic planning model since, as industry-leaders, they are well-funded, organized, and have a sturdy foundation to build on.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s most recent strategic plan , written in 2015, focuses on goals and objectives for 2016-2020 in a standard strategic planning model. In the strategic plan, the organization highlights two major challenges they face moving forward: a rapidly-changing planet and the state of natural history museums. The plan then continues to lay out three main, actionable priorities for the organization as they continue to work toward their goal.

According to the Smithsonian’s strategic plan, these three priorities are to:

Within each priority, the Smithsonian’s strategic plan breaks down the priority into multiple goals the organization wants to achieve. Then, those goals are broken down into specific objectives of their own, creating actionable tasks. As you can see, the Smithsonian’s plan is extremely detailed and well thought out, projecting a clear path for where they want to go and how they are going to get there.

World Central Kitchen

While World Central Kitchen (WCK) doesn’t have a strategic plan available to view online, their website and the Audacious Project lay out exactly how the organization first planned to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the work they continue to do through their Chefs for America campaign. This example presents an interesting situation when thinking about strategic planning models, because WCK is responding directly to a global disaster and trying to reach short-term goals in order to stay afloat and keep helping.

It’s likely that WCK has been too busy providing meals and putting restaurants back to work to focus on putting a complete strategic plan document together. If they did have one, it would probably be a real-time strategic planning model laying out their short-term goals like providing meals to a certain neighborhood that week, then discussing if the goals were met or if there were any shortcomings, making any necessary changes to their plan, then continuing to help communities in need until the pandemic is over.

Many nonprofit organizations create strategic plans for their specific branches, like the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. Their strategic plan focuses on the period of 2020-2023, highlighting five strategic priorities to complete by the end of 2023. As another example of how to effectively construct priorities for a nonprofit’s strategic plan, here are those five priorities of ACLU of Georgia:

As with the Smithsonian strategic plan, the ACLU of Georgia dives deeper into each priority to highlight exactly how their organization is going to work toward their goals over the next few years. This is another example of a standard strategic plan model, but it is focused on responding to new and current issues in the present day. Since the ACLU deals with such a wide variety of issues, having a detailed and organized strategic plan is crucial to their success moving forward.

Feeding America

Feeding the Gulf Coast, a member of the Feeding America nonprofit organization, shares a simple, straightforward strategic plan for 2022. While this plan is much shorter and less detailed than many of the other strategic plans in this article, it demonstrates that your strategic plans can be constructed in whatever way is best for your organization.

Every organization has a different mission and different goals they want to achieve. Feeding the Gulf Coast’s strategic plan shows that you don’t have to make your strategic plan a 20-page document, as long as you and all the members of your organization know what you need to do individually to reach your goals.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America

Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America highlights their 2022 strategic plan on their website, which gives a lot of information about their organization and their general goals, but doesn’t go into extreme details like some of the other strategic plans examined in this article. One of the reasons for this comes from what you’ve already seen with the ACLU and Feeding the Gulf Coast: different branches of major organizations have different strategic plans.

For larger, industry-leading organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the others listed here, they cannot have one, unified plan for every branch of their organization because each of those branches has different priorities and goals. Big Brothers/Big Sisters of New York certainly has different goals than Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Montana. Each situation is unique and, like the different chapters of these large organizations, only you and your fellow team members can determine what is best for your nonprofit’s strategic plan.

Strategic planning for nonprofits is a wide-ranging topic and how you approach it depends on your specific organization’s situation. The first step is to determine what planning model is best for you and build your strategic plan accordingly. To help, we’ve collected several free strategic planning templates on our Giant List of Nonprofit Templates . Examining how industry-leading nonprofit organizations handle their strategic planning should also help you on your way to planning for the next step in your organization’s future.

By Dominic Lincoln

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