Maximizing Impact: Strategic Planning for Nonprofits [+Examples]
Nonprofits play an essential role in society by serving as advocates for important causes, offering support to those in need, and promoting social change. However, running a nonprofit can be challenging, especially when it comes to strategic planning. Developing a clear roadmap for the future can be crucial for nonprofit organizations to achieve their goals, increase their impact, and attract funding. And yet, there are many organizations that don’t know how to create a strategic plan for a nonprofit.
In this article, we’ll explore the importance of nonprofit strategic planning, discover what a nonprofit strategic plan could and should include, and provide some examples that will give you some inspiration for your own strategic plan.
Whether you’re a seasoned nonprofit professional or just getting started, this blog will provide valuable insights into the world of strategic planning for nonprofits.
What is a Strategic Plan for Nonprofits?
A strategic plan is a comprehensive document that outlines a nonprofit organization’s goals, objectives, and priorities. It is a tool that helps nonprofits identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and develop a clear roadmap for the future.
Strategic plans typically include an analysis of the organization’s current state, its mission, vision, and values, and outline a set of strategic objectives and action plans. The objectives typically include areas such as fundraising, program development, marketing and communications, governance, and human resources. It should be a fulsome and holistic plan that includes all areas of an organization’s business and how those areas need to intersect to create positive change, both internally and externally.
A strategic plan is also a living document that should be updated periodically to reflect changes in the organization’s internal and external environment. Strategic plans are typically executed over the course of several years, meaning that the circumstances that were considered when the plan was developed (such as staffing, budget, program priorities, etc.) can change and some areas of the plan may need to be adjusted to ensure that your organization is still working towards its goals.
Do Nonprofits Need a Strategic Plan?
In short, yes. Whether you’re a grassroots nonprofit on the verge of growth, or a more established organization with a large donor base, a strategic plan is your roadmap to success. Nonprofits operate in a constantly changing and competitive environment, and a strategic plan can be an invaluable tool to help you navigate this landscape.
A strategic plan provides a clear and concise plan of action that outlines the organization’s goals, objectives, and priorities. It enables you and your team to align your resources, including finances, staff, and volunteers, to achieve your mission and vision effectively.
Without a strategic plan, nonprofits can risk becoming reactive rather than proactive, which can lead to missed opportunities, decreased effectiveness, and loss in revenue. A strategic plan can also be crucial for your fundraising efforts. Donors want to see that organizations have a clear direction and plan for the future.
Strategic plans assure donors that the dollars they have invested in your organization are being well-handled, and get them excited for what’s to come, making them more likely to give again.
Start building a plan that will lead you to fundraising success.
Use this FREE template to guide your next nonprofit strategic plan and get started with raising more for your cause.
How to Approach a Nonprofit Strategic Plan
When approaching strategic planning, it’s important for your organization to consider several key factors to ensure a successful outcome. First, you should start by clearly defining your mission statement, vision, and values, and ensure that they are aligned with your overall nonprofit strategy.
Next, you should conduct a thorough analysis of your internal and external environment, including factors such as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). You should also consider key internal and external stakeholders, including donors, volunteers, and community partners, and incorporate their input into the planning process.
When engaging external stakeholders in your strategic planning process, it’s important to manage expectations. While volunteers, donors, and community partners are incredibly important to your organization, you are likely limited in the information that you can provide to them to inform their decision-making. By carefully selecting the part of the process that you involve them in, you can ensure that you are able to incorporate their feedback without compromising your plan.
Once the analysis is complete, the next step is to develop a set of strategic objectives and action plans that align with their mission and vision. These objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART), and should be regularly monitored and evaluated to ensure progress is being made.
To execute a strategic plan successfully, nonprofits need to communicate the plan effectively to all stakeholders, including staff, volunteers, and board members. It’s critical to get internal buy-in to support your strategic plan. Hosting a town hall or dedicated meeting to walk your team through the plan, gives them an opportunity to ask questions, share concerns, and get aligned on your organization’s vision for the next several years.
It will be critical for your organization to allocate resources appropriately to ensure that the plan can be implemented. The budget should have been one of the initial considerations while building the plan, and developing a plan that cannot be backed by the appropriate resources (whether that is budget, staffing, or tools) sets your organization up for failure. It’s much better to create a realistic plan based on what you have available than a blue-sky plan that can never be fully executed.
Throughout the strategic planning process, your organization should remain flexible and adapt to changes in your internal and external environment. You should also regularly review and update the plan to ensure that it remains relevant and effective.
Finally, don’t forget to celebrate successes as you reach certain milestones along the way and, even more importantly, learn from your failures. Not everything in your strategic plan is going to go exactly as intended, so it’s important to understand the areas in which you fell short of your goals and use this knowledge to inform future planning efforts.
What is included in a nonprofit strategic plan?
A well-executed nonprofit strategic plan will have many elements. It should be comprehensive, and clearly outline the steps needed to achieve success.
Mission and vision statements
Mission and vision statements are foundational elements of a nonprofit strategic plan. The mission statement defines your organization’s purpose and what it aims to achieve in the long term. A mission statement should be concise and communicate the organization’s reason for existence, its values, and its goals.
The vision statement, on the other hand, is a more aspirational statement that outlines your organization’s long-term goals and what you hope to accomplish. It is a statement that reflects your organization’s values and aspirations for the future. The vision statement for your strategic plan should be inspirational and get your team excited for what’s to come!
Together, the mission and vision statements serve as a guiding force for your strategic plan, shaping its goals, priorities, and activities. They provide clarity and focus, ensuring that everyone involved with the organization understands its purpose and works toward a common goal.
Key Performance Indicators
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are critical metrics used to measure progress toward achieving the objectives set out during strategic planning. KPIs are measurable values that help a nonprofit organization evaluate performance and determine if they are making progress toward their goals.
KPIs provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of your organization’s programs and activities, highlighting areas where improvements can be made. KPIs may include metrics related to fundraising, program delivery, volunteer engagement, and other key areas.
It’s important to establish the KPIs associated with your strategic plan before it is presented to the teams that will be executing it. Your team will be responsible for achieving these KPIs, so it’s critical that they understand them, the thought process behind them, and the steps they need to take to achieve them.
By regularly tracking and reporting on KPIs, your nonprofit can identify areas of success and areas that require improvement, allowing you to make data-driven decisions to optimize your impact.
Before you set KPIs, you will want to ensure that you can measure them. It’s crucial to invest in a platform, such as Keela, that offers comprehensive tools that track and update your KPIs in real-time, so that you are able to easily understand how close you are to achieving your goals.
Evaluate performance and progress toward your strategic plan’s goals with Keela.
Learn how you can track what matters most to your organization with one-click dashboards and customizable reporting in Keela.
Goals and Tasks
When setting goals and tasks for your nonprofit strategic plan, it is essential to ensure that they are aligned with your mission and vision statements. This alignment helps to ensure that the goals and tasks are meaningful and relevant and that they contribute to the organization’s overall success.
Goals and tasks should follow the SMART model and should be:
- Specific: define the who, what, when, and where of your goal with smart objectives.
- Measurable: you should be able to track your progress in a quantitative way using measurable goals.
- Achievable: attainable using your existing skills and resources. It’s important to also look at your data to understand if your goals are achievable based on your organization’s history.
- Relevant: to your organization’s mission and vision statements.
- Timely: all goals should have a deadline and timed milestones to ensure that you and your team are on track to achieve success.
Creating SMART goals provides a clear and concise roadmap of what needs to be done to reach your end goal. When developing goals and tasks, it is crucial to consider your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats (see SWOT section), and to incorporate input from key stakeholders.
Your goals and tasks should be broken down into manageable components, with timelines and responsibilities assigned to specific individuals or teams. Regular monitoring and reporting on progress toward the goals and tasks can help to ensure that your organization remains on track and can adjust your approach as needed.
A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool used by nonprofit organizations to identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It is a comprehensive analysis that helps you evaluate your internal and external environment, providing valuable insights into your current state and future prospects.
Let’s break down the components of a SWOT analysis and why it’s an important part of your strategic planning:
- Strengths: Strengths refer to the internal factors that give your organization a competitive advantage. These can include factors such as strong brand recognition, talented staff, and a loyal donor base. Identifying strengths is important because it allows your organization to capitalize on these advantages and leverage them to achieve your goals.
- Weaknesses: Weaknesses are the internal factors that hinder your nonprofit’s ability to achieve its goals. These can include factors such as limited funding, outdated technology, and inefficient processes. Identifying weaknesses is important because it allows you to address these areas and understand what needs to be improved to reach your goals.
- Opportunities: Opportunities refer to external factors that offer a potential advantage to your nonprofit organization. These can include factors such as changes in legislation or demographics that create new demand for your services. Identifying opportunities is important because it allows you to take advantage of these favorable conditions and expand your impact.
- Threats: Threats refer to external factors that could negatively impact your nonprofit. These can include factors such as economic downturns, increased competition, or changes in funding priorities. Identifying threats is important because it allows your nonprofit to develop strategies to mitigate these risks and ensure long-term sustainability.
By conducting a SWOT analysis, you can gain a deeper understanding of your competitive landscape, develop strategies that capitalize on your strengths, and address areas that require improvement. This analysis provides a solid foundation for the development of your strategic plan that is tailored to your organization’s unique needs and objectives.
Get started with your nonprofit SWOT analysis.
This worksheet includes a simple how-to guide, an example tailored to the nonprofit sector, and a template to help you conduct your own SWOT Analysis.
A risk analysis is an essential component of nonprofit strategic planning that helps organizations identify potential risks and develop strategies to mitigate them. A risk analysis involves identifying potential threats to the organization’s operations, including financial risks, reputational risks, and legal risks.
A risk analysis also involves assessing the likelihood and potential impact of each risk. By conducting a risk analysis, you can develop strategies to minimize potential harm and ensure your long-term sustainability.
It is important to note that risk management is an ongoing process and that risks can change over time. Your organization should regularly review and update your risk management strategies to ensure they remain effective.
How To Write a Strategic Plan
Conduct Robust Research
Conducting research is an essential first step in writing a nonprofit strategic plan. This research will include a comprehensive analysis of the internal and external environment, as well as a review of relevant data and research related to your organization’s mission and objectives.
The research you do should help identify industry trends, potential partners, or collaborators that can help you execute your strategic plan, as well as gaps in the current market.
Additionally, conducting research allows your organization to better understand the needs and expectations of your stakeholders, enabling you to develop strategies that align with their priorities.
Define the Elements of Your Nonprofit Strategic Plan
It’s important to define the elements of your strategic planning to ensure that you include everything that will need to be considered. This is where you will include your SMART goals, SWOT analysis, tasks, action plans, KPIs, and risk analysis.
Your mission and vision statements will provide a clear and concise statement of your organization’s purpose and long-term goals and should act as a guiding light to the inclusion of other elements.
Get Input From Key Stakeholders
Getting input from stakeholders (such as donors, volunteers, staff, board members, community partners, and beneficiaries) is a crucial part of the nonprofit strategic planning process.
Input from these stakeholders can provide valuable insights into your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the challenges and barriers you face. This information will help shape your organization’s goals and objectives, ensuring they align with the needs and priorities of your stakeholders.
Involving stakeholders in the strategic planning process can also help build buy-in and support for your strategic plan, increasing the likelihood of successful implementation. Additionally, involving stakeholders can help build a sense of ownership and investment in the organization’s success, creating a culture of engagement and commitment.
Asking questions is an essential part of building your nonprofit strategic plan. Nonprofit strategic planning involves a process of inquiry, analysis, and decision-making, and asking the right questions can help your nonprofit identify key issues and develop effective solutions.
Asking questions will help you clarify your mission, vision, and values and better understand your competitive landscape. Here are a few stakeholder questions to get you started:
- What is the most significant challenge facing our organization, and how can it be addressed?
- What are the most significant opportunities for growth and impact, and how can they be pursued?
- What are the expectations and needs of beneficiaries, and how can our organization better serve them?
- What are the expectations and needs of donors and volunteers, and how can our organization better engage and retain them?
- What are the key trends and developments in the nonprofit industry, and how can our organization adapt to changing conditions?
Determine Your Key Fundraising and Marketing Strategies
Defining key fundraising and marketing strategies is an essential part of nonprofit strategic planning. These strategies can help your organization raise awareness, engage donors and volunteers, and generate the resources needed to achieve your mission and objectives.
To define key fundraising and marketing strategies, your nonprofit should consider several factors.
First, you should identify the target audience for your fundraising and marketing efforts, including donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders.
Second, you should consider the most effective channels for reaching these audiences, including social media, email, direct mail, events, and other marketing tactics.
Third, you should develop compelling messaging that speaks to the organization’s mission, values, and impact.
Fourth, you should consider various fundraising techniques, such as grants, sponsorships, and individual giving campaigns.
Finally, you should establish measurable KPIs to track the effectiveness of these strategies and make data-driven decisions to optimize their impact.
Learn everything you need to know about nonprofit KPIs.
Use this FREE Toolkit to learn what it means to be data-driven and get access to a master list of fundraising KPIs for your nonprofits.
Common Mistakes When Making The Nonprofit Strategic Plan
There are several common mistakes that nonprofits make when building a nonprofit strategic plan. These mistakes can hinder the effectiveness of your plan and ultimately impact your organization’s ability to achieve its mission and objectives. Here are some examples of common mistakes:
- Failing to involve stakeholders in the planning process, can lead to a lack of buy-in and support for the plan.
- Focusing too much on short-term goals and failing to consider long-term sustainability.
- Failing to conduct thorough research and analysis of the internal and external environment, can result in an incomplete or inaccurate strategic plan.
- Developing a plan that is too rigid and inflexible, failing to adapt to changing circumstances or unforeseen challenges.
- Failing to establish clear and measurable KPIs to track progress and evaluate the effectiveness of the plan.
- Neglecting to allocate sufficient resources, including funding, staff time, and other resources, to execute the plan effectively.
- Failing to establish a process for regularly reviewing and updating the strategic plan to ensure it remains relevant and effective.
By avoiding these common mistakes and ensuring that the strategic planning process is comprehensive, inclusive, and flexible, your nonprofit can develop a strategic plan that guides your activities and helps you achieve your mission and objectives.
Strategic Plan Example – Nonprofit
One of the great things about the nonprofit sector is that we can learn so much from our peers. Below, we have included a few nonprofit strategic plan examples from nonprofits to help you get started:
- UNICEF Strategic Plan (2022 – 2025)
- Alzheimer’s Association Strategic Plan (2023 – 2025)
- Feed the Children Strategic Plan (2019 – 2023)
Start building a plan that will lead you to fundraising success.
Use this FREE template to guide your next nonprofit strategic plan and get started with raising more for your cause.
Building a nonprofit strategic plan is a complex and dynamic process that requires careful planning, research, and collaboration. By defining key elements, involving stakeholders, asking the right questions, and avoiding common mistakes, your nonprofit can create a comprehensive plan that aligns with your mission statement and objectives, engages stakeholders, and generates the resources needed to achieve your goals.
A well-crafted strategic plan provides a roadmap for your organization to achieve its mission, increase your impact, and ensure your long-term sustainability.
About the author:
Head of Marketing, Keela
Meredith has always had a passion for work that makes an impact. Having spent over 7 years working in fundraising, she has gained extensive knowledge in marketing, peer-to-peer, events, and sponsorship and firmly believes that all successful fundraising strategies start with your data.
Having experienced it first-hand, she understands the challenges nonprofits face when building a fundraising strategy and loves connecting with other like-minded fundraisers to brainstorm new and creative ways to leverage data to increase revenue. When not working, Meredith can be found trying out one of Toronto’s diverse restaurants, breaking a sweat in a spin class, or researching her next travel destination.