A well-rounded nonprofit strategic plan is essential whether the internal and external states are critical or not. Yet, many nonprofits disregard the significance of structured planning and consider it a mere formality rather than necessity.

The strategic planning nonprofit organizations always have the upper hand at handling both critical and day-to-day scenarios. Having a thought-through blueprint allows acting mindfully and leveraging off every team member’s unique advantages.

Today we explore all the vital elements of developing a robust strategic plan for nonprofit organizations.

What is a nonprofit strategic plan?

Strategic planning is the process of creating an action course for any company or project. Although the general idea behind developing a strategy is similar across all organizations, the people and factors that contribute to the process are unique to each cause.

Compared to for-profit companies, nonprofits have drastically different goals. This means that the tools and tactics used for achieving these intentions will also be specific to nonprofit operations. And a nonprofit strategic plan is basically a detailed resume of all the instruments and techniques that will contribute to the main goal.

  • Definition: A nonprofit strategic plan is a summary of the organization’s objectives and the methods of their achievement. Such a plan will typically feature research data, people, procedures, schedules, and more.

During strategic planning, nonprofit firms might take several different approaches. The overall process will also vary depending on the organization’s standing in the community, the external climate, and the internal dynamics. 

But at the same time, the essential developmental stages of any nonprofit strategic plan remain constant. Here are five key phases of putting together a strong strategy:

  • Outlining the ultimate goal. Commercial organizations aim to profit, but for nonprofits, the money they make is just an instrument that assists with making an impact. Any earnings are reinvested into the organization to promote their goal. Therefore, defining and comprehending the primary purpose always acts as the foundation for a nonprofit strategic plan.
  • Gathering input from stakeholders and contributors. Nonprofit organizations are highly people-driven. That’s why it is necessary to consider the opinions and strengths of all contributing associates.
  • Indicating fundraising and marketing strategies. Attracting awareness and funds to the ultimate cause is the main task of every nonprofit. There are always multiple solutions to getting on the right track, and the strategic planning nonprofit job is to find the right one.
  • Setting objectives. A nonprofit strategic plan has to include sub-goals and objectives of the ultimate goal. The objectives are divided into short-term and long-term and sometimes don’t influence the main purpose directly but rather serve as a supporting factor.
  • Finding an optimal approach to each objective. Each objective is backed by specific roles and actions to help realize it. The strategic plan will also outline the time frames and quality-measuring methods to ensure the objectives are met.

Now, to get to a more distinct strategic planning nonprofit model, examine your organization’s internal and external state. Then, based on these observations, adopt one of the following strategic approaches.

Common nonprofit strategic plan models

The strategic planning nonprofit model defines the regularity and format of every strategizing event or activity. Once again, consider your organization’s unique attributes and most influential outside factors for the optimal path.

Below are a few approaches to nonprofit strategic plan development, including the pros and cons of every style.

Organic planning

This nonlinear, almost go-with-the-flow strategic planning nonprofit method helps organizations make the most relevant plans in uncertain times. An excellent example of when organic strategizing worked best was during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020.

In the organic model, the nonprofit’s contributors meet up regularly to take actions based on the most relevant data and complete analysis of each team member’s advantages.

  • Best for: Short-term planning during turbulent external conditions
  • Not ideal for: Long-term planning, organizations with weak internal operations, large-scale external crises

Issue-based planning

When the internal instability is more substantial than external difficulties, nonprofit strategic plan development needs to focus on the issues within. The task is to spot the weak elements and craft a solving technique using internal and external assets.

For example, if the last fundraising event did not meet expectations, the nonprofit might want to reconsider the marketing tactics or appoint different staff to help move the cause forward. 

Ideally, issue-oriented strategic planning will happen on a milestone basis until the company achieves internal balance and is ready to transition to a new strategizing model.

  • Best for: New organizations and nonprofits with a past of poor management or non-strategic decision-making
  • Not ideal for: Addressing an external crisis, establishing conduct between separate effective departments, or long-term planning

Alignment planning

Aligning a strategic planning nonprofit model is great when the external conditions are stable and all departments function properly but fail to communicate with one another. Such disbalance might happen when the main goal is not relevant or apparent to everyone within the organization.

This way, each contributor performs well at their position but does it out of touch with the overall course. Once again, lack of alignment can happen due to inadequate management or poor strategic planning in the past.

The outcome of proper alignment is improved internal communication, meaning that most plan items will circulate the team members on the same page, reestablishing the shared mission and employing tactics for more productive work.

  • Best for: Understanding and rectifying cooperation imbalance within the organization
  • Not ideal for: Major external or internal turbulence and long-term strategizing

Standard planning

The most straightforward approach to nonprofit strategic plan development is so-called vision-based or standard planning. This strategizing method builds off the organization’s main goals in times of internal and external stability.

Standard style planning starts with outlining a mission, defining the supporting objectives, and then scheduling specific and measurable procedures for that mission’s accomplishment.

  • Best for: Established organizations with a successful history of nonprofit strategic plan establishment during non-critical times
  • Not ideal for: Turbulent scenarios and companies with a lack of internal balance

Real-time planning

The real-time approach is the most code-red strategic planning nonprofit model. Unlike with the uncertainty-based organic method, real-time strategies are adopted when the crisis is already unraveling.

Force-major events, such as natural catastrophes and anything from an economic recession to a global pandemic, can serve as a reason to consider a real-time approach.

This crisis-management planning method calls for frequent meetings, constant reassessment of losses and achievements, and effective communication practices.

  • Best for: Immediate crisis management in all types of organizations
  • Not ideal for: Times of relative external stability or long-term planning

How to build a strong nonprofit strategic plan

Once you’ve established which strategic planning nonprofit model suits your organization best, it’s time to add value to your strategy by zooming in on several foundational elements.

  • Research. Gather data on all possible contributors to your cause. The research stage will include getting to know other companies that operate with a similar purpose, finding people and organizations that can benefit you, exploring the major challenges of the field, and so on.
  • SWOT analysis. Take a look at your organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. A good nonprofit strategic plan has to be equally self-aware and forward-looking.

Tip: You can also use SWOT analysis to assess each separate element of your strategy, including tactics and employees.

  • Objective establishment.  A Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely (SMART) model is excellent for creating both long-term and short-term objectives. Here, it is vital to make sure that every sub-goal ultimately serves the original purpose.
  • Impact and values alignment. Your nonprofit strategic plan will describe the correlation between the organization’s internal values and the impact you’re aiming to make. Outlining the values also helps all contributors to feel unified and collaborate more effectively.

Tip: Good indicators of goodwill and compassion in the nonprofit’s culture are transparency, integrity, and accountability of every member.

  • Input consideration. As mentioned earlier, people drive nonprofits. And even though the financial power comes from donors, it is the nonprofit’s employees who operate the whole mechanism. 

Therefore, consider including human resources development and deployment, enhanced communication, and uncompromised inclusivity to be a part of your nonprofit strategic plan.

Strategic plan template for nonprofits

Before we wrap up, here’s an example of a generalized strategic plan template for nonprofits. Keep in mind that your final strategic plan will be tailored to your organization’s unique needs and goals. However, you might still include many of the following sections:

  • Executive summary is the foundation of any strategic plan template. Sum up the key points of the plan, clarifying its purpose for anyone who didn’t participate in strategizing. It’s a good idea to write this segment last.
  • Board authorization is only necessary for corporations. Here, board members officially authorize the strategy by dating and signing it.
  • Organizational description exists to inform outsiders about the history and the key achievements of your organization. There’s no need to include it during internal strategic plan template development.
  • Mission statement – this summarizes why your organization exists – its values and goals – sometimes with references to particular events or people.
  • Vision statement – this describes your organization’s operational aims.
  • Values statements outline the culture of your organization. As discussed above, its values have to reflect your nonprofit’s mission and serve as a guide for all contributors.
  • Marketing approaches describe the various ways of attracting attention to your organization and its cause. 
  • Objectives and tactics are essentially a detailed illustration of the established objectives and of who will achieve what and when.
  • SWOT summary – this works as both a base for your nonprofit strategic plan template and proof that techniques and objectives were set correctly.
  • Risk analysis helps minimize the possible damage of various critical scenarios and keeps everyone in the organization on the lookout for undesirable factors.
  • Financial projections are a way to quantify the strategy. Define specific amounts and deadlines and commit to meeting the established goals using all necessary resources.
  • Appendices in your strategic plan template cover anything that can add more value, illustrate data, or support any plan element. For example, you can include things like:
  1. Task management framework
  2. Strategic planning approach description
  3. Research data and analysis
  4. HR details
  5. Operating budgets
  6. Financial reports
  7. Communication channels description
  8. Strategic plan renewal schedule

Final thoughts

Creating a nonprofit strategic plan based on your organization’s unique characteristics and purposes helps to operate smoothly and achieve goals faster. Additionally, having a strategy can improve the sense of effective teamwork and take your nonprofit to new levels.

Remember to include the team in the strategic planning and design each element of the action plan with the ultimate purpose in mind.

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