Strategic Planning for Nonprofits

When you think of “strategic planning for nonprofits”, what comes to mind?  Expensive consultants?  Multi-day retreats?  Dusty binders full of plans, sitting on shelves forgotten and untouched?  Well it’s time to rethink strategic planning.  A strategic plan can help your nonprofit move forward, achieve goals, make important decisions, and make the best use of limited funds.  Once you clearly define where you want to go and how you want to get there, day-to-day decision making becomes easier and you can get a better idea of how to allocate funds.  So get to it!

Depending on the size of your group, a strategic plan can actually be a fairly simple process.  The most important thing is to create a plan that will be used, because if it sits on the shelf you’re just wasting time.  Follow these steps for a “quick and dirty” version of strategic planning that will get your nonprofit headed in the right direction.

  1. Gather the key players.  This can be as large or small a group as you feel necessary, but it should include the following:  President/CEO, board chair, CFO, COO, head of PR/marketing, volunteer coordinator, head of philanthropy, and any other assorted C-O’s you may have.
  2. Set aside a distraction-free time.  While you don’t need a three day retreat, you do need to focus.  I would suggest holding your meeting off-site to cut down on distractions – libraries often offer free or very low cost meeting rooms.  Make everyone check their electronics at the door and get down to brass tacks.
  3. Define your mission, vision, and values.  If you already have these, great!  If not, get to work.  Your mission should be one sentence that describes what you do.  Your vision should be your ultimate goal; what does your ideal community look like after you’ve worked yourself out of a job?  Your values should be the core values and beliefs that guide your organization.
  4. Decide where you want to go, and be realistic about these expectations.  Where do you want your group to be in five years?  What do you want to look like?  What programs do you want to be offering?  What changes do you want to see?  Get as specific as you can, and try to drill down to one concise paragraph.
  5. Now you have Point A (where you are now) and Point B (where you want to be).  How do you connect the two?  As a group, come up with the steps that you need to take to get to Point B, being as specific as possible.
  6. What do you need to make those steps happen?  Do you need more funding?  More volunteers?  A new space?  Make a list of all the things you need.
  7. How are you going to get those things?  This step is where you should really let your creativity shine.  Come up with new and innovative ways to reach your goals, whether by diversifying your revenue stream or starting new volunteer outreach efforts.
  8. Assign accountability.  Decide who will be responsible for each of the action items and set regular meetings to check in on progress.  These meetings can be once a quarter or once a week, but make sure that you make them a priority – no skipping!
  9. Use the plan!  Now that you’ve done the work, you have to live by the plan.  Hang goals in your office where you will see them every day, and be sure to refer back to the plan at every meeting.  It can be easy to veer off track, and having your plan as a touchstone will help to keep you on the right track.  When considering a new program or campaign, always refer back to your strategic plan.  Will this new initiative move you closer to your goals, or will it take you down a different path?  With tight budgets you can’t afford to say “yes” to everything, so make sure you’re picking and choosing the best opportunities to meet your goals.

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