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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.

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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.

More About Planning

  • Budgeting for Nonprofits
  • Business Planning for Nonprofits
  • Financial Management

Additional Resources

  • Sample  strategic agenda  for a board meeting
  • Sample  Timeline for Strategic Planning  (Washington Nonprofits)
  • BoardSource's strategic planning resources  for nonprofit boards
  • The Strategic Plan is Dead: Long Live Strategy  (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
  • The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution: Real-Time Strategic Planning in a Rapid-Response World  (David La Piana)

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: Ultimate Guide + Free Template

This guide explores how to conduct effective nonprofit strategic planning.

  • Leadership/Culture
  • Strategy/Planning

profit strategic plan

See How Bloomerang Can Have a Bigger Impact on Your Mission!

Nonprofit strategic planning can help your organization meet challenges effectively and take advantage of new opportunities. Despite the many benefits that strategic planning can bring, 49 percent of nonprofits lack a strategic plan.

Organizations that do have a strategic plan continually express the advantages that this type of preparation gives them. One study found that 86 percent of respondents believed that having a strategic plan positively impacted revenue generation through grants, donors, events and other avenues.

Whether you’re starting a new nonprofit , crafting an emergency plan to react to unexpected external circumstances, or creating your strategy for the next two to five years, this guide will help your nonprofit get the most out of its strategic plan. We’ll cover:

Nonprofit strategic planning FAQs

Types of nonprofit strategic plans, nonprofit strategic planning template, 5 steps of strategic planning for nonprofits.

  • 7 nonprofit strategic plan examples

How donor management and fundraising software can support strategic planning

Annual strategic planning is the key to unlocking your growth potential for the future. Let’s get started.

What is strategic planning for nonprofits?

Nonprofit strategic planning is the process of creating a blueprint that guides an organization for a specified time period and helps accomplish its goals. The strategic planning process involves reflecting on your mission to identify your most important goals and determining the strategies you’ll use to reach them.

A good strategic plan ensures you have charted the necessary pathways to meet (and hopefully exceed) your organization’s goals.

How often should you develop a standard nonprofit strategic plan?

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

What are common misconceptions about nonprofit strategic planning?

When it comes to strategic planning, there are a few common hesitations that nonprofits voice throughout the process. Here are three misconceptions about the process:

  • It’s a cliche, but it’s true — you have to spend money to make money. During the strategic planning process, you should identify areas to spend money effectively in ways that increase your fundraising return on investment. When you make strategic purchasing decisions, you can set your organization up to fundraise more productively than ever before.
  • Your nonprofit shouldn’t fear experimentation — taking calculated risks fuels innovation and helps you reach your mission more efficiently.
  • We recommend that you don’t place board members in charge of setting strategic direction. The board should be tasked with providing oversight of your organization’s strategy, not setting the priorities themselves.

Learn more about common strategic planning misconceptions in this Bloomerang webinar:

How do you begin the nonprofit strategic planning process?

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 considering which strategic planning model will best work for your organization.

Different circumstances and goals will require different types of nonprofit strategic plans. Choose a strategic planning model based on your nonprofit’s current circumstances, opportunities and threats.

Carefully examine the following strategic model plans to decide which one will best suit your nonprofit’s needs:

This chart highlights the primary nonprofit strategic planning models, which are described within the text.

Standard Strategic Planning Model

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

It’s best to use this 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.

Generally, this model follows these steps:

  • Define your organization’s mission and goals.
  • Set specific, short-term goals you would like to reach to get you closer to those larger goals.
  • Create a clear plan to reach short-term goals, including who is responsible for each goal’s success.
  • Write these actions down and create a timeline to complete each one.

Here’s an example of what this would look like: Let’s say your organization is 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 strengthening 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 are understaffed, 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 they have strayed from the path to success.

To implement this strategic planning model, complete the following tasks:

  • Brainstorm the elements that are holding your organization back from success.
  • Decide how to address each of those elements to get your organization back on track.
  • Carefully monitor your progress and adjust the strategy accordingly.

Consider the following scenario: Your nonprofit has limited staff and struggles to increase fundraising revenue. You may decide to address this by working with an external fundraising consultant or directing your staff’s attention to building relationships with your most engaged donors who are likely to increase their giving amounts.

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

Organic Nonprofit Strategic Planning Model

The organic or nonlinear nonprofit strategic planning model is best when there are uncertain external factors that threaten your nonprofit’s situation.

Using this model, your team members will come 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, putting this model into practice looks something like this:

  • You and your team members go on a retreat to unify your understanding of the organization’s big-picture goals.
  • Each team member examines their own strengths and decides on an actionable goal they can achieve based on that strength by a certain date.
  • The team meets together again either quarterly or annually (or as frequently as you’d like) to discuss your progress toward each goal and mission impact.

For instance, you may find that one team member, Theo, 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 build 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% in the coming 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 your unique strengths.

Real-Time Nonprofit Strategic Planning Model

The real-time nonprofit strategic planning model is useful when your nonprofit is in the midst of a crisis, like an economic recession or national/global catastrophe. The situation could also be limited to your organization. For instance, you might have been the victim of a cyberattack or your headquarters might have been severely damaged in a tornado.

This model relies on an extreme focus on 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 toward these short-term goals. The model usually looks like this:

  • Your organization frequently meets as a large group to define short-term objectives for individual team members.
  • In these team meetings, you discuss whether you’ve met these goals, your day-to-day progress and any roadblocks your organization members face.
  • After the crisis period, your organization takes inventory of the progress made or damage done, thanks team members for their hard work and creates a new strategic plan using a different model.

Consider the following situation: You discover that your nonprofit was the victim of a cyberattack that potentially left some donors’ information at risk. In response, you meet with your team to define and align on urgent next steps.

You assign several team members to assess the extent of the attack and summarize their findings into a clear report. Then, you designate other team members to notify impacted donors as quickly as possible about the breach. You outline the steps you’ll take to keep donors’ information more secure in the future and prevent future attacks.

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:

  • Your team members meet to learn about the issues each individual faces in their position.
  • You re-establish the common mission that everyone on your team is working towards.
  • You outline tweaks that your team can use to improve internal communication processes.

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 on together. 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 in each department and can prioritize their tasks accordingly.

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

Before you dive into the strategic planning process, it can be helpful to know what type of plan or report you’re going to end up with. Generally, strategic planning forms look similar to this:

This image shows a nonprofit strategic planning template (described further in the text below).

This template outlines all of the essential planning steps that we’ll review in the next section. Here is a high-level overview of what your plan should include:

  • Your organization’s 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 of your mission; it will never be complete but always be a work in progress.
  • Your primary goals and specific objectives within those goals. Identify priorities for the types of programs and services you’ll offer to support your goals, target audience for your services, target supporter audiences, advocacy and public policy aims and branding or marketing objectives.
  • Who is responsible for each objective and what activities they will complete to work toward the objective. You’ll assign each team member a clear role in the process and outline the tasks they will complete that support your overarching goals.

Let’s take a closer look at how to develop each aspect of your strategic plan.

Use these steps to launch the strategic planning process:

1. Set fundraising targets

Use your organization’s budget to determine generally how much you need to raise to achieve your philanthropic goals. Then, outline the strategies you’ll use to acquire that funding.

For example, you may decide to raise:

  • 50% of funding from individual contributions to your annual fund
  • 20% of funding from your planned giving , legacy and endowment programs
  • 20% of funding from corporate giving programs
  • 10% of funding from grants

Every nonprofit will have a different breakdown of their fundraising goals based on their current fundraising initiatives and their community’s giving capacity.

2. Get input from key stakeholders

Next, ask your stakeholders for input about your fundraising goals. Provide context for your goals and philanthropic objectives, explain how each will impact your mission, then ask for feedback about the plan.

The different stakeholders you should reach out to include:

  • Board members
  • Staff members
  • Key corporate and community partners
  • A fundraising consultant

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

Stakeholders might raise the alarm if your fundraising amount is 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 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.

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.

This chart can help you outline your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats clearly and concisely:

This image shows a breakdown of a nonprofit SWOT analysis, which you can use during your strategic planning process.

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

  • Major gift fundraising . Major gift fundraising likely makes up a large portion of your proceeds. If it doesn’t already, this is one area of your strategy you’ll want to improve.
  • Donor-centric stewardship . Donor stewardship leads to better retention rates and better fundraising results down the line. This ties in well with your marketing strategy and ensures you’re communicating regularly and effectively with donors.
  • New donor acquisition and retention . The second donation a donor gives is the “golden donation” because most donors lapse after the first gift. After the “golden donation,” there’s about a 60% chance they’ll give again.
  • Online fundraising . While more revenue probably comes from in-person conversations with major donors, most of your donors probably prefer to give online. It’s convenient so long as your fundraising page is well-optimized.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising . Peer-to-peer fundraising is a great strategy to attract new donors while raising additional funds from your committed supporters. Leverage the power of your social networks to raise funds using this avenue.
  • Monthly giving . Recurring gifts are essential because they’re a consistent source of revenue. If someone sets up a recurring gift, you can probably count on that gift being given for an extended period and account for that in your future budget.

Assign areas that need improvement a lower fundraising target than the aspects of your strategy where you already know you’re strong. 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 larger 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 .

4. Establish SMART objectives

When you set your fundraising goals, make sure they’re SMART:

  • Specific: Target a specific area for improvement
  • Measurable: Quantifiable
  • Attainable: Achievable based on your past successes
  • Realistic: Reasonable based on your available resources
  • Time-based: Aligned with a specific time frame

For example, let’s say you have a specific goal for increasing individual contributions to your annual fund.

Here are a few examples of SMART goals that target this objective:

  • Acquire 500 new donors through your online fundraising page within a year.
  • Call 100% of the new donors who give within 90 days of their gift.
  • Acquire 200 new donors through a 2-week peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
  • Expand your monthly giving program by 100 donors within a year.
  • Retain 70% of donors from last year.

These goals include specific numbers and time frames to help orient your strategic planning around quantifiable metrics.

5. Choose tactics to support each objective

Use reporting tools in your donor management system and marketing platforms to help keep your team accountable for reaching your goals.

Assign each team member an individual role that they’re responsible for. Here’s an example of a chart that clearly defines each activity, the staff member accountable for the task and the deadline:

This image shows how to plan out activities that support your nonprofit strategic plan and assign staff members to complete each task.

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 purpose as a part of the team.

In addition to assigning team member roles, you can also automate certain processes to free up more staff time. For example, if you used to send out the monthly newsletter manually or personally manage every social media post, consider investing in new marketing software as part of your strategic plan.

Ask yourself some of the following questions.

  • What areas of our work do we need more time for?
  • What can we automate?
  • Who at our organization has repetitive tasks that take time away from more important activities?

Sometimes the answer to these questions leads you to invest in new nonprofit software like a new CRM to automate donor engagement efforts or volunteer management tools to streamline volunteer scheduling.

7 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:

1. The Denver Foundation’s 2021 Strategic Framework

This is a screenshot showing priority areas within the Denver Foundation’s nonprofit strategic plan.

The Denver Foundation is a community nonprofit foundation committed to strengthening the Metro Denver area.

The organization’s 2021 strategic framework was written to provide guidance for a decade — a longer period than a typical strategic plan. This extended time frame means the document is intended to be a living, flexible blueprint that will evolve as the community’s needs change.

The strategic plan is outlined in a user-friendly online booklet that clearly displays the organization’s mission, vision, purpose and values. It also details new policies, such as a new donor management approach, priority service areas and the organization’s business model.

This represents an example of a more far-reaching plan that will help the organization develop a long-term approach to reaching its mission.

2. Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles 2022-2023 Strategic Plan

This is a screenshot of the five priorities listed in the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles strategic plan.

The Girl Scouts organization provides programming and leadership training for girls in communities across the country and worldwide.

Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles outlined a strategic plan for 2022-2023 . On the online web page, the organization points out five strategic priorities. This helps interested readers get a quick overview of the organization’s most important plans before diving into the full report.

In the complete plan, each priority also includes information about specific initiatives to support the goal and the intended outcome of each objective. This helps audience members understand the actions they should expect to see from the organization over the coming months.

3. Habitat for Humanity Australia Strategic Plan 2021-2024

This is a screenshot showing the national and international goals from Habitat for Humanity Australia’s nonprofit strategic plan.

Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to provide affordable housing to families in need around the globe.

The organization’s Australian branch published a strategic plan for 2021-2024 that aligns a vision for the country’s programs with the organization’s overarching international activities.

The plan also includes a visually-engaging strategic pyramid that depicts how the strategic plan fits into Habitat for Humanity’s purpose, mission, vision and principles. This can help readers visualize how each element of the strategic plan is like a puzzle piece that helps build the full picture of the organization’s efforts.

4. Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta Strategic Plan 2021-2025

This is a screenshot of a goal chart with numerical goals from the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta strategic plan.

Boys & Girls Club of America is dedicated to providing enriching after-school programs for kids and teens. The Metro Atlanta chapter’s 2021-2025 strategic plan outlines plans to reach more kids, grow their supporter base and improve diversity and inclusion.

The plan includes five main focus areas, each with a few specific objectives, along with specific quantifiable goals. The plan also incorporates a timeline chart depicting when each goal is projected to be completed.

This level of specificity is essential for staying on target and reaching goals effectively.

5. SAMHSA’s 2023-2026 Strategic Plan

This is a screenshot from SAMHSA’s strategic plan.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a U.S. government agency established to make mental health and substance abuse help and resources more readily available.

The organization’s 2023-2026 strategic plan is oriented around four guiding principles: equity, trauma-informed approaches, commitment to data and evidence and recovery.

The plan includes plenty of data and research to explain why each principle was chosen. It also highlights five priorities for this three-year period that will help bring each principle to life.

6. The Nature Conservancy of Pennsylvania and Delaware Strategic Roadmap

This is a screenshot of the Nature Conservancy of Pennsylvania and Delaware’s nonprofit strategic plan.

The Nature Conservancy’s mission is to promote worldwide conservation efforts. The Pennsylvania and Delaware Chapter released a strategic plan for 2022-2024 that illustrates how the chapter will take local actions to support the overarching mission.

The plan is organized into sections based on strategic priority or geographic location. Critically, it includes information about how the chapter will scale up its conservation efforts and how donors, partners and volunteers can support each effort. This brings supporters into the conversation and helps them envision the steps they can take to have an impact on the mission.

7. UNICEF Strategic Plan 2022-2025

This is a screenshot of the timeline chart from UNICEF’s current strategic plan.

UNICEF is a United Nations Agency devoted to providing humanitarian aid to children worldwide.

The 2022-2025 strategic plan starts with an informational overview of the progress that has been made along with challenges that children face around the world. Next, the plan details strategic shifts that the organization is currently taking, along with five goal areas.

The plan ends with a detailed roadmap chart of each principle and objective and the target completion dates.

Donor management and fundraising software can offer plenty of support throughout your entire strategic planning process. Here are just a few of the ways you can use integrated donor management and fundraising software to streamline your planning:

  • Review data analytics and reports to understand your nonprofit’s current fundraising and donor engagement situation. Use this information to understand what’s going well and where there is room for improvement.
  • Set goals and assess progress made toward them. Using your software, you can establish goals and assign team members to take charge of each task.
  • Improve your supporter outreach. Strengthen donor and corporate partnerships throughout your strategic planning work by using your donor management software to create communication segments and campaigns.
  • Identify prospective major or recurring donors. With a donor management platform like Bloomerang , your CRM will automatically identify highly engaged donors who are likely to upgrade their giving amount or frequency.

Interested in seeing what these activities look like in practice? Schedule a Bloomerang demo today for a personalized look at how our nonprofit software solutions can support your organization’s strategic plan.

Wrapping up

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:

  • The Essential Guide to Writing a Fundraising Plan . Your nonprofit’s fundraising approach will be greatly influenced by your strategic plan. This resource will help you develop a clear fundraising plan to support your strategic planning.
  • Online Fundraising | Ultimate Success Guide + Tips and Ideas . Your strategic plan should outline your digital fundraising initiatives for the years ahead. Use this online fundraising guide to amplify those efforts!
  • 16 Top Donor Management Software Solutions (+ Buyer’s Guide) . Donor management software can help provide insights that fuel your strategic plan. This guide highlights 16 donor management solutions to consider.

Discover How Our Donor Management Software Can Empower Your Fundraising Strategy.

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  • How to build a strategic plan for your ...

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

How to build a strategic plan for your nonprofit article banner image

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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Nonprofit Strategic Planning: Your Complete Guide

by Funding For Good | Jan 23, 2023 | Strategic Planning

Guide to nonprofit strategic planning

Every nonprofit could benefit from a strategic plan. Funders are increasingly asking to see organizations’ strategic plans. Talented staff and potential hires are increasingly eager to work with organizations that have clear and compelling visions. And, as leaders, we’re all looking to increase our organization’s impact.

A nonprofit strategic plan can provide all these benefits and more. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of strategic planning, how nonprofit strategic planning differs from the private sector, and how to make sure your organization’s planning process is successful.

  • What is a nonprofit strategic plan?
  • Does my nonprofit need a strategic plan?
  • The nonprofit strategic planning process: what to expect

What is a Nonprofit Strategic Plan?

A nonprofit strategic plan is a written roadmap for where an organization is going, how it will get there, and specific ways to determine if the organization has “arrived” at the destination. A strategic plan is the result of a process designed to create a shared vision and strategic alignment across organizational stakeholders.

This last part is especially critical for nonprofit organizations. Strategic planning isn’t solely about the written plan. It’s about building consensus across your board, staff, and other stakeholders, so that your team is focused, driven and ready to increase impact.

The process of strategic planning is designed to create shared vision and strategic alignment across organizational stakeholders.

A written plan can be put on a shelf and forgotten. But it’s nearly impossible to set aside a shared vision for the future when your board and staff are deeply invested.

What is a nonprofit strategic plan? A roadmap for where your organization is going and how it will get there.

Is your nonprofit ready for strategic planning?

How is nonprofit strategic planning different from the private sector?

Though we don’t often think of nonprofits as businesses, they actually are. Nonprofit is a tax status, not a business model .

Even if there’s no profit involved, nonprofit leaders still need to understand how to run a business . This includes balancing income and expenses, managing risk, securing appropriate insurance, bookkeeping and financial controls, ensuring adequate human resources support, managing staff, deciding where to invest and where to pull back, and more.

But nonprofits are also different from for-profit businesses in a few ways that affect the strategic planning process:

Nonprofit vision and mission

Nonprofit organizations exist to carry out a vision and mission to make a specific impact externally in the world. While organizations need to make sure they can afford costs, there is no profit motive and no shareholders to satisfy. Which is why vision and mission should drive every aspect of nonprofit strategic planning.

Read more: What Happens When Nonprofit Business Plans Stray from an Organization’s Mission?

Nonprofit staff motivation and expectations

People generally work in nonprofit organizations because they want to contribute to change. Nonprofit staffers may even trade higher salaries in the private sector. This can mean that staff bring different expectations to working in nonprofit organizations. Staff want to be engaged in decision-making. They want to consistently feel like their work is contributing to a greater good. They want to feel supported in their career growth. All of which means that nonprofit leaders will need to think very intentionally about how staff are engaged in and connected to a strategic planning process.

Read more: Engaging Staff in Strategic Planning

Nonprofit fundraising

Fundraising is one of the most essential functions in any organization. Unlike for-profit businesses, nonprofits generally raise the bulk of their income not from selling products or services, but from individual and institutional donors. This can include grants, major gifts, small dollar donations, endowed gifts, and more. In return for their contribution, donors expect to see an organization make an impact in the world. Which is why strategic planning can be especially helpful for nonprofits, as it spells out an inspiring, impact-driven, long-term vision.

Read more: 5 Ways to Boost Fundraising with a Strategic Plan

Role of the nonprofit board

The majority of nonprofit boards are non-paying positions. Yet nonprofit boards are responsible for over an incredible amount of oversight. This means that, like staff, board members will be attracted by vision and mission. Unlike for-profit boards, which are thinking about shareholders, a nonprofit board is primarily focused on ensuring an organization is able to fulfill its vision and mission. Nonprofit board members should thus be deeply involved in strategic planning.

Read more: What is Nonprofit Governance and Why Does it Matter?

Does My Nonprofit Need a Strategic Plan?

Studies consistently show that organizations with a written plan double their likelihood of success. Yet according to research, only half of nonprofits have a strategic plan . Among those organizations that do have strategic plans, too few actually put them to use.

Investing in a strategic planning process is one of the most important things you can do to boost your organization’s impact and chance of success.

Whether your nonprofit is new or established, growing or struggling, a strategic plan can position your organization to thrive.

Are you ready to build a sustainable, impactful organization?

Why is strategic planning important for nonprofits?

Running a nonprofit organization is not easy. Many nonprofits operate on lean budgets. Leaders wear multiple hats. Staff are often overwhelmed, filling multiple roles in order to meet program deliverables (and secure that next grant). Board members are volunteers, often with their own careers to manage.

Adding strategic planning to the mix can feel overwhelming. Which is why many nonprofit leaders wonder: Is strategic planning worth doing?

Strategic planning does require both financial resources and time from staff and board leadership. But research and first-hand experience working with dozens of nonprofits shows that there are incredible benefits to nonprofit strategic planning.

  • Save time by getting aligned: The strategic planning process brings together board and staff leadership to co-create a vision for your organization’s future. This includes strategic direction, programmatic and financial priorities, and measures for success. Because the process itself is based on consensus building, it creates valuable buy-in—which will ultimately save time and reduce friction.
  • Save money with smarter spending: Your strategic plan will make clear where you need to invest to achieve your 3-5-year goals. This saves you from spending precious resources in non-core areas. And because your plan includes measures of success, you’ll be better able to assess when spending is paying off, and when it isn’t, enabling you to quickly course correct.
  • Get your team invested: Did you know that 95% of employees don’t understand their company’s strategy ? At the same time, one of the top things workers find demotivating is “ a lack of meaning in their work .” A strategic planning process that engages employees and creates buy-in can transform how staff members feel about their day-to-day work. A strategic plan that employees feel invested in can re-energize your team, break down silos, and increase productivity.
  • Boost your impact: A strong strategic plan leaves no doubt about what your organization is trying to accomplish. Combining ambitious goals with actionable strategies, your plan will be designed to increase your success. For nonprofits, this means increasing both impact and sustainability. By providing clear benchmarks, your plan will also help you better evaluate your progress toward goals—catching challenges before they become costly missteps.
  • Raise more money: Donors want to invest in organizations with a strong vision, a commitment to sustainability, and a focus on creating and measuring impact. Which is exactly what a strategic plan provides. In addition to directly sharing your strategic plan with major contributors, your fundraising staff can repurpose it into language for grant proposals and supporter emails. Quarterly strategic plan progress reports for the board can be quickly transformed into compelling impact reports for donors. A strategic plan is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your development team.
  • Kickstart strategic decision-making: A strategic plan is more than simply a document. It’s a tool that should guide nonprofit board and staff leaders in making strategic decisions. Whether it’s which programs to expand or which to cut, a strategic plan spells out a set of shared values and priorities. So instead of debating major decisions from scratch each time, your team can align more quickly by asking: Which choice will best advance our organization’s stated goals and values?

While it’s easy to think of a nonprofit strategic plan in terms of how much it will cost, strategic planning isn’t simply a line item in a budget. It’s an investment in your organization’s future.

The real question nonprofit leaders should be asking is: Can my organization afford to keep operating WITHOUT a strategic plan?

How is strategic planning different from other planning?

Nonprofit leaders often feel like they’re swimming in plans. At any given moment, we’re either creating, editing or approving annual plans, department plans, and project plans. We hone our mission statements. We work with development or marketing staff to refine proposals and brochures. And that doesn’t even include the individual development plans we craft with our direct reports.

But despite all this planning, leaders and staff can still end up feeling rudderless. That’s a sure sign that you’re spending time on the wrong plans or creating your plans in the wrong order.

Start with a strategic plan

A nonprofit strategic plan is a roadmap for where you’re going—and the types of plans you need to create to get there. Your strategic plan does four important things that other plans are simply not designed to do:

  • Provide a 3-5-year vision for your nonprofit, including goals, objectives and benchmarks to evaluate success.
  • Articulate an overarching strategy for the organization as a whole. Each program, project and department within your organization needs to be contributing to the organization’s overall goals.
  • Align stakeholders on a shared vision for success. This includes your board of directors and staff leadership from every single department.
  • Guide decision-making at all levels of the organization.

Once you have a strategic plan in place, then annual plans, project plans, proposals and more will all flow from that overarching vision.

Annual plan vs strategic plan

Ideally, your annual plans will flow from your strategic plan. A strategic plan covers a 3-5-year period, with a focus on a clear vision and roadmap to get there. In contrast, annual planning is about the nuts and bolts of how you’ll be implementing your strategic plan in a given year, including who is responsible for specific deliverables.

Your annual plans will also go into more depth about the ongoing activities that keep the organization operating, but aren’t necessarily detailed in your strategic plan. Consider bringing the same curious and creative approach you used in the strategic planning process to assess these ongoing functions. Is there a way to handle basics like budgeting and bill payment more effectively and efficiently?

Read more: What is an Annual Plan vs a Strategic Plan?

Project plan vs strategic plan

Where a strategic plan covers vision and strategy for an organization overall, a project plan focuses on goals, objectives, activities, and outcomes for an individual project. The scope of project plans varies significantly. A single project plan could cover anywhere from two weeks to two years, and involve one person or dozens. The key to a successful project plan is making sure that everyone involved in the project understands their individual roles, deliverables, and deadlines.

Once you’ve created your strategic plan, you’ll likely need many project plans as you start implementation. For example, as part of a goal to increase small dollar donations, you’ll need a project plan for your year-end appeal, as well as ongoing donor communications. If you’re organizing events, you’ll certainly need project plans for those. And if you’re executing on organizational changes that will affect staff, such as shifting to a four-day workweek, a project plan will be critical.

Read more: What is a Project Plan vs a Strategic Plan?

Prospectus vs strategic plan

A prospectus is a printed booklet or brochure that serves as a promotional piece. In the nonprofit sector we tend to think of this as a marketing piece. We might call them “one-pagers,” “collateral,” or the “leave behinds” for a donor meeting.

Regardless of the name, a prospectus is the abridged, polished, and outward-facing version of your strategic plan. It’s the kind of language you use on the “about us” or “what we do” pages of your websites.

Ideally, once you have a new strategic plan, you’ll start updating all of these various materials to reflect your organization’s updated vision, direction, and impact goals. Just keep in mind that, where your strategic plan might delve explicitly into internal organizational changes , a prospectus or similar materials will focus on external impact .

The Nonprofit Strategic Planning Process

What are the steps in nonprofit strategic planning.

Many nonprofits choose to work with a consultant for their strategic planning. This enables board and staff leadership to focus on strategy, rather than running a planning process. It’s also especially helpful to have a skilled consultant who can advise on how to best engage staff members. As a neutral third party, consultants can garner unexpected insights from staff and other stakeholders through surveys, one-on-one interviews, and focus groups.

When working with a consultant, your strategic planning process should include at least three steps:

  • Step One: Preparation. This is the getting started phase. Your consultant will create a work plan and timeline, set roles and expectations, gather and analyze stakeholder input, conduct an organizational assessment to identify internal and external challenges and opportunities, and ensure that the organization’s vision and mission are clear.
  • Step Two: Strategic planning sessions or retreat. This is where the real consensus-building work happens. Your strategic planning consultant will facilitate one or more intensive strategy sessions with your board and staff leadership, and any other stakeholders you’ve agreed to include. Make sure your team is focused and ready to actively participate.
  • Step Three: Strategic plan creation. The final stage is where your vision comes together on the page. You’ll work closely with your consultant as they prepare and finalize your written strategic plan. You’ll also want to be proactive about building internal awareness, alignment, and buy-in across your organization. Your consultant can help you develop and implement a thoughtful roll out strategy .

What is unique about the nonprofit strategic planning process?

While nonprofit and for-profit strategic planning may follow a similar process, nonprofits will want to carefully consider a few additional areas:

  • Stakeholder engagement: Nonprofit board and staff at every level are part of your organization not because of money, but because of mission. That often brings much higher expectations of participation in decision-making processes. Nonprofit leaders launching strategic planning processes should work closely with their consultants to make sure staff are engaged at the appropriate level to create authentic buy-in.
  • Sustainability: Where businesses will be thinking more about increasing revenue and decreasing costs, nonprofit financial planning should focus on sustainability. When it comes to attracting the best staff and raising consistent money, a strong and sustainable nonprofit is like a magnet. This is very different from the private sector where short-term wins that boost shareholder profits are rewarded.
  • Fundraising strategy: Fundraising is pretty unique to the nonprofit sector, and it will generally be an important element of your strategic plan. The closest for-profit parallel might be entrepreneurs pitching investors or applying for loans. But unlike business entrepreneurs, nonprofit fundraising never ends. Grants are for one year terms. Some aren’t renewable. Donors have to be asked to give every single year, sometimes multiple times before you land that gift. Fundraising is high-stakes, deadline-driven, and unrelenting. Every single employee’s salary depends on your fundraising team to do their job. So creating a strong and diversified fundraising plan is a must-do.

Is strategic planning long, expensive, and difficult?

No! An effective nonprofit strategic planning process doesn’t have to be painful and drawn out. Though many of us in the sector have experienced the dreaded “never-ending planning process.” You can prevent that scenario from playing out in your organization by selecting the right consultant. Focus on finding consultants who understand your sector, are familiar with organizations of your size or growth stage, and are skilled facilitators.

Because a strategic plan is only as strong as the consensus-building process that creates it.

How do I find a nonprofit strategic planning consultant?

Many strategic planning consultants work with both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. We recommend being sure that your consultant has at least some experience working with organizations like yours.

Read more: Complete Guide to Strategic Planning Consultants

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Nonprofit Strategic Planning: Key Steps + Top 10 Examples

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

A new year approaches, and your nonprofit is eager to raise more than ever before. You don’t have a set plan in place, but as long as you host a series of fundraising campaigns and reach out to your major donors every now and then, you should be on track to meet your goals, right?

Think again! You might have a strong guiding mission motivated by a worthy cause, but if you don’t have a roadmap to carry out that mission effectively, it’ll be much more difficult to see your goals through.   Strategic planning   gives your organization the foundation it needs to weather any storm and stay on track to completing your objectives.

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

Nonprofit Strategic Planning FAQs

Steps for creating a nonprofit strategic plan, the essential nonprofit strategic plan template, top ten examples of nonprofit strategic plans, tips for maintaining your nonprofit’s strategic plan, how a nonprofit consultant can support strategic planning.

Backed by a comprehensive strategic plan, you’ll be able to advance your mission and power more good in your community. Let’s begin!

Before we jump into how to create your strategic plan, you’ll need to have the basics down. Let’s break down what a strategic plan is and how it can benefit your organization.

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. 

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 your organization to face any challenges that may come your way 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.

What are the different types of strategic plans?

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. There are different types of strategic plans based on your nonprofit’s primary objective, including:

  • Standard strategic plan:   Like its name suggests, a standard strategic plan is the typical model for creating a roadmap for achieving your overarching long-term goals. This conventional planning model is best suited for nonprofits whose internal and external conditions are stable. For instance, if your nonprofit has good standing in its community, isn’t experiencing any political or economic threats and has consistent donor support, you can benefit from this traditional strategic approach.
  • Issue-based strategic plan:   Unlike a standard strategic plan, an issue-based strategic plan is favorable for nonprofits that are experiencing a specific internal problem. For instance, consistently falling short of your   online fundraising goals   or experiencing increased staff turnover would constitute a need for issue-based strategic planning. Your goals for an issue-based strategic plan will be more specific than those of a standard strategic plan so you can correct the given issue.
  • Organic strategic plan:   An organic strategic plan is similar to an issue-based strategic plan, but is ideal for nonprofits that are facing an external threat. For example, a new government policy that affects your nonprofit’s work might prompt your organization to create this type of plan. An organic strategic plan allows you to consider how this external threat is affecting your nonprofit and how you can proactively make adjustments to better meet your future goals.
  • Real-time strategic plan:   A real-time strategic plan is necessary for nonprofits that are experiencing an unexpected event, like a natural disaster. For example, if you’re an animal rescue organization and a hurricane damaged several of your shelters, you’ll need this plan to act fast. Rather than making long-term goals for the future, this plan involves setting short-term goals to quickly solve the problem at hand.
  • Alignment strategic plan:   An alignment strategic plan seeks to improve collaboration between different teams at your nonprofit. For example, if your fundraising team isn’t in constant communication with your marketing committee (and vice versa), you’ll likely have a gap in how well you’re able to promote your fundraising needs to your donors. This type of planning involves brainstorming ways your team members can better work together and laying out a framework for more seamless communication, such as establishing monthly check-in meetings between different teams.

Consider the different obstacles and opportunities your nonprofit is facing to help you decide which type of strategic plan makes the most sense for you to create at this time. Keep in mind that while the situational factors that inspire these different types of plans may differ, the core planning process is the same. Backed by a comprehensive plan, you’ll be able to lay out a clear framework for turning your goals into reality.

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.

For example, you might want to tap more donors to power your community initiatives. But how many donors are necessary? How will you measure your success? What campaigns or   stewardship activities   will you lead? Without clear answers to questions like these, you won’t have the necessary preparation to confidently tackle your objectives.

A strategic plan helps simplify decision-making whenever your organization reaches a crossroads or an unexpected situation. It synthesizes the various teams within your nonprofit so that everyone, from your board to staff leaders, is on the same page.

What are the benefits of strategic planning for nonprofits?

As mentioned previously, 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:

  • Better time management.   You’ll gain a better sense of which tasks you can eliminate from daily activities to save time. If something doesn’t align with your priorities, you can rearrange your staff’s responsibilities to reorient the team around your strategic plan.
  • Ability to say no to activities or projects that don’t align with your priorities.   Whenever new ideas arise, you’ll have a clearer sense of direction for which ideas should be pushed forward and which shouldn’t.
  • Improved staff and board management.   A strategic plan ensures staff and   board members   understand their roles and have clearly defined responsibilities.
  • Better understanding of your guiding principles.   Undergoing the process of reviewing your organization’s principles and modifying your approach to achieving your goals can help rally everyone around your guiding priorities.
  • Opportunity to clarify/strengthen your organization’s mission statement.   Use the strategic planning process as an opportunity to carve a niche for your nonprofit in the industry by strengthening your mission statement. Get to the heart of your mission by inviting input from individuals both inside and outside of your organization.
  • Opportunity to assess results.   When top leaders are involved in both goal-setting and follow-through, they’ll be more likely to set realistic goals and understand their role in working toward those goals.

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

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

  • Current and past board members
  • Current and past annual, major and planned giving donors
  • Influential community members such as political leaders, foundations or trust officers and church leaders
  • Prominent business owners
  • Volunteers and staff
  • Certain recipients of your services, such as patients, alumni or consumers

When conducting these interviews, it’s important to choose participants carefully. Seek a variety of perspectives, including from individuals 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.

Donor or volunteer 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 to strategic planning 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 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, your   nonprofit’s consultant   will summarize their findings and offer a recommended plan of action to your organization’s leadership. The consultant will review the highlights and top insights from the planning retreat to highlight key priorities.

Your 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 leads 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:

  • Mission clarity:   Why are you in operation? What does your nonprofit do to make a difference in the community?
  • Marketing and PR:   How do you communicate your mission to a wider audience?
  • Financial sustainability:   How do you sustain your operations?
  • Community engagement:   How do you raise awareness of your mission in the community and earn support?
  • Infrastructure and process:   Is your organization’s infrastructure aligned with your strategic goals?

Here is 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:

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:

  • Action steps:   What tasks, projects or events are necessary to complete the priority? List out each required step that will allow your team to complete the goal.
  • Timeline/milestones:   When should you complete each task? Having a set timeline for each step is a great way to foster accountability.
  • Leaders:   Which team member(s) will take responsibility for each task? Ensure each person is aware of their role and the associated timeline for completing their tasks.
  • Necessary resources:   What resources will you need to be able to complete each task? These might include people, databases or input from board members or staff members.
  • Future/ongoing actions:   How will you ensure that the task or project will remain ongoing instead of fizzling out? Determine the timeline and team member responsibilities for maintaining each priority.

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.

While your strategic plan should be individualized to your nonprofit, it can be helpful to draw inspiration from other organizations to guide your approach. See what’s possible for your nonprofit by exploring this list of the top nonprofit strategic plans.

1. Boys and Girls Club of America

The   Boys and Girls Club of America   is dedicated to creating brighter futures for young people across the country. As a national organization with an ambitious mission, it was essential for the Boys and Girls Club of America to craft a comprehensive strategic plan that unites their Club partners and families around their vision for the future.

The Boys and Girls Club of America summarizes their mission, vision, and purpose in their nonprofit strategic plan.

In their strategic plan titled “Great Futures 2025,” the Boys and Girls Club outlines four strategic priorities that will help them cultivate young leaders:

  • Increase program quality
  • Strengthen organizations
  • Advocate for youth development
  • Reach more youth

To reach these goals, this nonprofit has outlined specific initiatives they’ll lead, such as improving program effectiveness through establishing quality standards, increasing government funding for youth development and building strong partnerships with schools. This level of specificity gives the Boys and Girls Club a clear framework to achieve their goals over the next few years.

2. Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles

The   Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles   seeks to achieve equal justice for impoverished individuals in the greater Los Angeles area. To bring this mission to fruition, the Legal Aid Foundation created a dynamic strategic framework that addresses the specific actions they’ll take over the course of five years.

The Legal Aid Foundation lays out the following seven strategic priorities:

The Legal Aid Foundation lists out seven strategic priorities to center their nonprofit strategic planning around.

  • Legal services
  • Staff development
  • Financial & fund development

Not only does this organization detail what these priorities are, but they also identify the staff leads, the specific goals and the metrics that will be used to measure success for each priority. Plus, the Legal Aid Foundation explains how each strategic priority connects back to their cause and founding principles, helping to ground their plan in their mission.

3. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Ohio

The   Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Ohio   aims to enrich the lives of sick children and their families through providing housing, resources, educational programs and more. This charity created a strategic plan for 2022-2025 to become a leader in access to healthcare for children.

The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Ohio opens their nonprofit strategic plan document with a summary of who they are.

Their plan is organized around strategic initiatives like building capacity to support the programmatic needs of the community and identifying and implementing opportunities to enhance quality healthcare access. With these guiding priorities in place, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Ohio can effectively rally their team around their goals and put their dreams into action.

4. Goodwill Industries of Northwest Ohio

Goodwill Industries of Northwest Ohio   is devoted to eliminating barriers to work and providing opportunities for people to reach their full potential. Guided by their philosophy of the “power of work,” Goodwill needed a strategic plan to help community members live independently, earn a fair living wage and meet their personal goals.

Goodwill created concise objectives to guide their nonprofit strategic planning.

Their 2022-2024 strategic plan begins by outlining their vision and values, including integrity, passion and respect. Next, the plan identifies specific objectives to transform lives in their community, organized into categories like financial sustainability and community. This guide is a great reference point for their staff and ensures everyone is on the same page.

5. Metroparks Toledo

Metroparks Toledo   is a park district that is committed to conserving the region’s resources through the management of natural parks and open spaces. As explained in the introduction of their strategic plan, Metroparks hopes to not only improve outdoor spaces for the enjoyment of the public, but also cultivate high performance and satisfaction among park employees.

Metroparks Toledo describes their core priorities, goals, and associated actions as part of their nonprofit strategic plan.

In their strategic plan, Metroparks kicks off with an overview of who they are, their mission and vision for the future. Then, they break down the following strategic priorities:

  • Maintenance of core services
  • Organizational health
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Becoming the leader in natural resource conservation
  • Engagement in our story
  • Strategic community partnerships
  • Sustainability of funding

Following the   Aly Sterling Philanthropy strategic planning   model, Metroparks outlines a plan of action for each of these priorities, including key objectives and key performance indicators to measure their progress. This helps Metroparks’ community members and employees understand the actions this organization will take to advance their mission.

6. Alzheimer’s Association

The   Alzheimer’s Association   seeks to end Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia through conducting global research, driving risk reduction and early detection and improving access to quality care. This organization released a 2023-2025 strategic plan to accelerate their mission and change the trajectory of Alzheimer’s for millions of people.

As part of their nonprofit strategic planning, the Alzheimer’s Association identifies their six strategic priorities.

The Alzheimer’s Association builds a strong case for support in their strategic plan by identifying relevant statistics, like the rising costs of Alzheimer’s in the nation which is projected to be more than $1.1 trillion in 2050. After explaining that there’s no time like the present for accelerated progress, they then cover their strategic priorities, including advancing public policy, increasing revenue and boosting awareness.

To establish a clear framework for their projected progress, the Alzheimer’s Association outlines strategic, measurable objectives. For instance, they explain that they’ll accelerate research by providing more funding opportunities, aiming to invest $110 million by the end of 2025. This specificity will provide their entire team with the clarity necessary to complete their responsibilities and contribute to the Alzheimer’s Association’s success.

7. Bryan Area Foundation

The   Bryan Area Foundation   is a community foundation that strives to improve the lives of individuals living in Williams County, Ohio. One of their central projects is providing millions of dollars to worthy community projects and scholarships, and to continue this charitable giving (along with over initiatives), the Bryan Area Foundation needed a strategic plan that outlined how to make this possible.

The Bryan Area Foundation has made immense progress in their nonprofit strategic plan for 2021-2023.

In their 2021 to 2023 strategic plan, the Bryan Center Foundation identifies a number of new projects for this organization to complete, including a revitalization of downtown Bryan to grow the number and quality of businesses. Since launching this plan, the Bryan Center Foundation has already created a Community Impact Project and Forgivable Loan Program, supporting their commitment to “Building for the future.”

8. DeKalb County Community Foundation

The   DeKalb County Community Foundation’s   mission is to benefit organizations and communities throughout DeKalb County, Illinois. In their strategic plan for 2022-2024, this foundation hopes to create change by addressing the following four key areas: Endowments and Donor Services, Stewardship, Grantmaking and Community Initiatives.

DeKalb County Community Foundation’s goals in their nonprofit strategic plan are precise and measurable.

DeKalb County Community Foundation’s goals and objectives are precise, with measurable objectives like realizing a minimum 3% financial donations increase in annual contributions to Community Impact Funds. Specific, measurable goals give this foundation the direction they need to maximize their success and foster accountability across their team.

9. World Wildlife Fund of Colombia

The   World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Colombia   aims to set Colombia on a path to sustainable, low carbon and resilient development. WWF created a strategic plan for 2020-2025 to address their ambitious goals to make the country a better place for people and wildlife.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Colombia provides an excellent example of nonprofit strategic planning because they list out specific targets and strategies to support their mission.

The organization’s strategic plan is centered around three main priorities:

  • Mainstreaming biodiversity, conservation, and climate change planning into territorial development plans
  • Promoting inclusive and equitable social, political and institutional governance
  • Advocating for responsible consumption, markets and financial institutions

WWF not only addresses Colombia’s strategies and goals in their strategic plan document, but also global targets to improve people and animals’ lives worldwide. This helps to connect WWF Colombia to the core principles and mission that define WWF as a whole.

10. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass & Metrowest

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass & Metrowest   (BBBSCM) was established to create professionally supported mentoring relationships and build brighter futures for today’s youth. In their strategic plan for 2020-2023, BBBSCM details their mission, vision, values and beliefs, making this a great resource for supporters getting to know their organization as well as for staff and volunteers to reference in their work.

As part of the nonprofit strategic planning process, the BBBSCM overviews their strategic initiatives in detail.

Then, this organization goes over their top four priorities and associated objectives with each, such as increasing sustainable funding by identifying 5-10 new major donor prospects, with the goal of adding 3-5 major donors per year. BBBSCM also identifies their strengths, challenges, threats and opportunities and tailors their strategic plan to these elements.

As a result, BBBSCM demonstrates in their strategic plan document that they’re committed to seeing their mission through and will take the necessary steps to create their vision for the future.

Here are some of our top tips for   keeping your strategic plan alive :

  • Fill out the above templates using information from your retreat.   Make sure your plans are formalized in a document that is shared across your organization. As you fill out the template, take a “less is more” approach and only include essential information. Also, make sure you’re setting SMART goals—those that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
  • Work as a group.   Create a task force to work collaboratively on your strategic plan. Keep the group large enough to be helpful, but not so large as to be a roadblock.
  • Present your plan to key stakeholders.   Host regular check-in meetings as a team to measure progress and maintain accountability.
  • Keep your plan front and center by posting it in a visible location.   Print and post your strategic plan in a communal space, such as your office or conference room, and ensure it’s also digitally accessible.
  • Explain your plan in a public, formal presentation.   When you make your plans known to a wider audience, it increases the expectation that you will see them through. It also engages your community and stakeholders in your organization’s plans.
  • Celebrate successes.   Plan celebrations for when you reach key milestones throughout your plan to recognize successes and keep staff and stakeholders informed of your progress. Plus, having a celebration to look forward to can   motivate your team   to complete its goals!

With these tips, you’ll be able to maintain the initial excitement and momentum built during your strategic planning process. This will ensure your plan is doing what it was meant to – furthering your organization’s mission effectively.

The right nonprofit consultant will walk you through every step of the strategic planning process. By tapping into their years of expertise in working with nonprofits like yours, they’ll help you craft a dynamic framework to improve your organization’s financial health, effectiveness, capacity and relevance within your community.

Your consultant will support your strategic planning by:

  • Collecting stakeholder insights in the beginning stages of the planning process
  • Leading your team through a productive retreat
  • Compiling findings into a plan of action and final strategic plan document

In addition to these core services, your consultant can also help you:

  • Create a   fundraising strategy   that will lead to stronger supporter relationships and a sustainable donation pipeline
  • Examine your existing tech stack and suggest solutions to augment your toolkit
  • Identify donor stewardship strategies that will encourage donors to give more frequently and in larger amounts
  • Strengthen your internal team, from your staff to your board members, so everyone is firing on all cylinders in pursuit of your mission

Do your research to find the   right consulting firm   that will thoughtfully and objectively consider your nonprofit’s current state and work with you to create a pathway to success.

Wrapping Up

When it comes to making your mission a reality and following through on your promises, don’t just wing it! A nonprofit strategic plan gives you the necessary framework to confidently tackle your goals, unify your team and leave a lasting impact on your community.

While taking an in-house approach to strategic planning is an option, it can be challenging to build a cohesive plan from the inside. Partner with the expert consultants at   Aly Sterling Philanthropy   to get an unbiased look at your organization and receive realistic guidance to construct your strategic plan.

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

  • Build Your Fundraising Strategy From the Ground Up . In addition to an overarching strategic plan, your organization can benefit from a blueprint made specifically to guide your fundraising. Use this guide to craft a plan that optimizes your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts.
  • The Essential Fundraising Plan Template for Nonprofits . Having a formalized road map to guide your fundraising is critical to keep your organization on task. Use this template to construct your fundraising plan.
  • 20+ Nonprofit Consulting Firms for Your Philanthropy Needs . Nonprofits often need guidance in a wide range of different areas. This list of top consultants includes experts who specialize in a variety of topics.

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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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The Nonprofit Board's Role in Mission, Planning, and Strategy

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Driving Strategic Planning: A Nonprofit Executive's Guide

Driving Strategic Planning: A Nonprofit Executive’s Guide

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The Source: Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards

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Strategic Planning: Understanding the Process

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Navigating the Organizational Lifecycle

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Nonprofit Strategic Planning Essentials for Your Path to Impact

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A strategic plan is your nonprofit’s roadmap for a period of time. Within it are your mission, vision, short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals and it’s essential to treat the plan as a dynamic tool to shape the direction of your organization — it has to adapt with your organization. Your organization’s needs will vary depending on whether you are newly established, in a period of growth or decline, or are focused on sustainability. Is your nonprofit organization in need of a strategic plan? We have compiled the essentials for nonprofits that will be your path to impact.

Why is a strategic plan important? 

The nonprofit strategic planning process provides time to reflect on your organizational goals and identify priorities for the next few years. Your strategic plan should guide the direction of the work your nonprofit will undertake, and is a necessary step to set your board, team, and organization up for success. There’s a lot of important work happening in the nonprofit sector, but as the saying goes, “If everything is important, then nothing is” and what you’ll end up with are staff and board members who aren’t sure where to focus their efforts. Your strategic plan should solve this conundrum by aligning your mission, vision, and goals.

Key Considerations for a Strategic Plan

How can your organization create a strategic plan that won’t be forgotten about after the meeting ends and can actually be put into action? This is a worry that many nonprofits have and it’s a valid concern. After all, you’ve devoted time, energy, and money to the process so you want it to serve your organization. There are a few key considerations to creating a solid plan.

Balance big-picture reflection with actionable objectives

The first thing to note is a strategic plan is a big-picture plan for where your organization wants to go. The nonprofit strategic planning process should provide ample time for reflection and evaluation of your organization’s mission, priorities, and goals for the future. As a team, envision the outcomes you’d like to see for your organization and its constituents. Consider the milestones that will help you measure your progress toward each goal and set a reasonable timeline.

Make it SMART

By focusing on a few key priorities, your organization can chart a direction and make operational and fundraising decisions based on your focus areas. Consider using the five rules for setting SMART goals and plans for your organization.

  • S = specific. Your goal should include details of what you want to accomplish.
  • M = measurable. You should be able to measure your progress and accurately determine whether you’ve accomplished your goal.
  • A = attainable. Your goals should challenge you!
  • R = realistic.
  • T = timely.

This helps guide the strategic plan and minimizes the chances that to leave your team and board members feeling confused about priorities.

Who do you have at the table?

It’s a given that your strategic planning process should include nonprofit leadership and your board of directors. And, it’s crucial to seek input from all stakeholders including staff, supporters, community members, and the population you serve. Think about it: how will you know your community’s needs if you don’t ask? These different perspectives help identify areas where your organization is thriving, gaps that need to be addressed and determine the priorities of the community you serve. 

Make it easier for all voices to be part of the process by providing multiple avenues for staff and community members to share insights and be a part of the conversation. Host focus groups to bring together staff, board, volunteers, and the people you serve. Offering surveys and listening sessions can help your organization engage a larger audience, identify themes across your various stakeholders, and provide you with insight you wouldn’t receive if the process was limited to a small group of board members and leadership staff. 

As a nonprofit consultant supporting organizations with strategic planning, impact mapping, and assessment, Carol Hamilton, Principal of Grace Social Sector Consulting suggests considering what challenges and barriers someone might need to overcome to participate. “One thing that organizations are becoming more aware of now is people need support and resources to give an hour to be part of a focus group. It’s not a given that it’s easy. Being able to compensate people for their time, provide childcare, or provide access to transportation all of those different things really enable all the voices you need to hear from be part of the process.” – Carol Hamilton, Principal of Grace Social Sector Consulting .

How to begin developing your strategic plan

  • Many nonprofits start their strategic planning process with a “SWOT” Analysis gathering staff and board insights about the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats. This process provides a chance for collective reflection on organizational gaps and helps shape the direction you’ll head in.
  • Determine the length of your plan. Some organizations opt for a seven-year plan while others create a five-year plan. A lot of growth and change can happen in that time span making the last few years of your strategic plan less valuable or all together irrelevant. The decision is ultimately up to your organization’s goals and capacity.
  • Decide whether you want to work with a strategic planning consultant and what qualities are most important to your organization for a consultant. Your organization may find that working with a strategic planning consultant specializing in a certain area is important since they’ll already have background knowledge about the type of work your organization does. Working with a strategic planning consultant who has expertise in DEI or another specialized area is essential to take your organization to the next level.    

Common roadblocks in developing a strategic plan

Some members of your team may be reluctant to engage in a strategic planning process. Perhaps they’ve gone through the process with another organization where the plan was abandoned or not adopted by the staff. These common roadblocks can be avoided by doing the following: 

Creating a plan that lacks buy-in

Your organization’s strategic plan should reflect the perspectives and values of your staff, supporters, and the audience you serve, as well as members of your board and leadership staff. A collaboratively created strategic plan has a greater chance of being implemented.

The plan is too broad or too narrow

It’s great to dream big with pie-in-the-sky goals, and your strategic plan should be aspirational. But, it’s also necessary that your plan is grounded in what can reasonably be accomplished over the course of a few years — it is your roadmap after all. Alternatively, your organization may be tempted to limit what you can accomplish. That said, a strategic plan is a dynamic document that should adapt to meet the current realities and goals of your organization.

Do More For Your Mission with Boardable

In conclusion, a well-crafted strategic plan is not just a document; it’s the compass that guides your nonprofit organization toward its mission and vision. It’s a dynamic tool that adapts with your organization’s evolving needs, whether you’re newly established, in a phase of growth or decline, or focused on sustainability.

At Boardable, we understand the importance of a strategic plan in shaping the future of your nonprofit. Our commitment is to provide the essential tools and resources that empower organizations like yours to create impactful strategic plans. By balancing big-picture reflection with actionable objectives, setting SMART goals, and involving a diverse range of stakeholders, you can ensure that your strategic plan is not forgotten after the meeting ends but is put into action.

Remember, your strategic plan should be a collaborative effort that garners buy-in from your team, board, supporters, and the community you serve. It should strike the right balance between ambitious aspirations and achievable milestones. And, most importantly, it should be a living document that adapts to the changing landscape of your nonprofit’s journey.

Need help getting organized? View more of our resources to keep your board organized and on the same page throughout your strategic planning process.

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The Essential Components of A Nonprofit Strategic Plan [With Template]

Reviewed by:

October 13, 2022

Last Updated:

October 30, 2023

Table of Contents

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 for your nonprofit, then continue reading to learn more.

5 Free Nonprofit Strategic Planning Templates To Use

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 Planning: Best for Stable Conditions

A standard planning model is used when internal and external conditions are calm and your nonprofit is operating normally. This is the best model for nonprofits that are creating a strategic plan for the first time, making it the most basic and common type of plan.

The first step to creating a standard planning model is to define your nonprofit’s overall mission. Then, you can lay out the goals that best align with that mission by doing the following:

  • Establish short-term, specific goals you will use to reach the larger goals.
  • Design plans and activities for reaching those short-term goals.
  • Determine who will be responsible for enacting and overseeing those plans.
  • Create a timeline that includes these plans and activities. This timeframe could be anywhere from one to three-to-five years, depending on the size of the goals being reached.

For example, a local shelter for battered women could have a goal of increasing its room capacity to shelter 50 more women and children over the next two years. The shelter determines it will need $20,000 to properly achieve this goal. Its strategic plan should clearly detail who will be in charge of outreach, who will contact donors, who will work with contractors, and any other steps needed to reach this larger goal.

By first determining the smaller goals and who will manage them, the local shelter can focus on meeting the overall challenge successfully in the allotted time frame.

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 Planning: Tackling Internal Challenges

If your nonprofit organization is dealing with internal challenges that need to be overcome, an issue-based planning model can help your organization clearly address these issues.

First, you will need to address the factors that are limiting your nonprofit’s success. Then, you can determine the best steps to address each of these factors.

Maybe your nonprofit is experiencing repeated staff turnover in a turbulent economic climate, or the leadership keeps changing due to disgruntled working conditions. An issue-based model can help solve these specific issues in an allocated period of time.

For example, maybe your nonprofit organization has repeatedly fallen short on its fundraising goal of $100,000 . An issue-based planning model can be used to identify why your organization keeps missing its goal and what it can do to fix it.

This could be done by implementing the following steps:

  • Conduct a brainstorming session to identify the things that are holding your nonprofit back from reaching its fundraising goal each year.
  • Agree on how to address each issue to get your fundraising back on track.
  • Figure out who will work on each issue, and then have someone carefully monitor their progress.
  • Have “check-in” milestones established and adjust the plan as needed to make sure you achieve success.

The last two bullets are key to successfully fixing specific issues within your organization. It is imperative to closely monitor your progress and adjust your issue-based plan as needed to get your nonprofit back on track.

3. Organic Planning: Adapting to External Changes

Unlike an issue-based planning model that deals with internal conditions, an organic planning model is used to help your nonprofit organization adapt to external changes that are impacting your nonprofit.

The “organic” nature of this kind of plan means that it will be less structured. You may not determine all of your steps at once, like a standard or issue-based plan. Instead, your nonprofit team will settle on one initial goal and make steps toward it. After you’ve reached that goal, you can organically decide on your next goal to keep moving forward.

Having your team meet regularly (maybe every quarter) will ensure your organic planning model is progressing successfully or if any adjustments need to be made.

4. Real-Time Planning: Navigating Sudden Crises

A real-time planning model is the perfect choice for nonprofit organizations that are facing either an internal or external crisis as a result of an unexpected event (consider that events of 2020!).

Usually, the impact of the event comes quickly and unexpectedly, so this kind of plan focuses on short-term goals that can be managed one step at a time to successfully make it through the real-time crisis.

For example, 27% of nonprofits across the globe have been a victim of cyberattacks, leaving their donors’ private and personal information vulnerable. This is the perfect example of a crisis that can be handled by a real-time planning model:

  • Have an initial meeting with your team to establish the short-term goals to face the cyberattack crisis.
  • Decide who will be working on each short-term goal.
  • Continue to meet to evaluate what has been done, discuss the next steps, and reaffirm the short-term goals of each team member.
  • After the crisis is over, have the team meet again to review the success of the plan and what could have been done better. 

As you can see from the example above, the goals of a real-time planning model are smaller so that they can be managed quickly and in a short period of time.

If your nonprofit is working on another strategic plan when a crisis hits, the real-time planning model will supersede any traditional strategic plan that is in place.

5. Alignment Model: Synchronizing Teams and Departments

Communication issues amongst your team members are normal, but if your staff and departments are out of sync and it’s affecting your organization, you may need to develop an alignment model strategic plan .

An alignment model will essentially streamline and restructure the way your team members communicate by focusing on the interdepartmental communication problems.

The objective of this type of nonprofit strategic plan is to align goals throughout each department so that everyone in the nonprofit can work and communicate more effectively.

Here are some ideas for how to develop this kind of plan:

  • Everyone meets to discuss the specific issues each team member is facing due to the lack of communication.
  • Small goals are set for each team member based on an established common mission. A larger goal is also set (i.e., clearer social media efforts , overall fundraising goals, etc.).
  • A framework is developed that illustrates the short-term goals each team member must achieve to improve internal communication.
  • Future meetings are established in which the team will check in and report their individual progress toward both their individual goals and the larger goal of the nonprofit.

You should choose this type of nonprofit strategic plan if your team needs help getting back on the same page and working toward a common goal. We have more information on how your nonprofit can better communicate , not only internally but also with donors, volunteers, board members, and the general public.

What Are the Benefits of Having a Strategic Plan?

Now that we’ve explained the different types of strategic plans, it’s time to go over how they can contribute to your nonprofit’s success.

Below, we have outlined the top ways a nonprofit strategic plan can benefit your organization and further its impact.

Provides Clear Direction

Your nonprofit strategic plan acts as a blueprint that guides your organization toward specific goals. As such, it provides clear direction to everyone on your team.

Without a strategic plan, you may not be able to determine if your goals are being met over the course of your given timeframe.

Once you develop the right plan for your organization, you will be able to clearly assess your nonprofit’s progress in achieving its milestones and objectives.

Enhances Grant Writing Chances

Another reason your organization should consider developing a nonprofit strategic plan is because it will enhance your grant writing success .

If you have worked with grantmakers before, you may have noticed that they often ask for you to include your nonprofit strategic plan with your grant proposal . Funders want to see how their grant would contribute to the overall strategic goals of your organization.

Your nonprofit strategic plan can also help you determine whether a specific grant is even worth pursuing in the first place. If the funding opportunity does not align with your strategic goals, you will probably waste time and effort developing a losing proposal.

Reflects Stability and Structure

A nonprofit strategic plan also communicates stability and structure to your organization’s stakeholders.

Donors, grant funders, corporate partners, etc., all want to see that your organization has carefully planned out its goals and how to achieve them.

Many nonprofit organizations even share their strategic plans on their websites so that these stakeholders and future supporters can check them out themselves.

For example, the Gates Family Foundation , a nonprofit committed to different philanthropic goals in the state of Colorado, offers their five-year strategic plan on their website . That way, their donors, partners, and staff can have a clear understanding of the structure and stability of their organization.

Gates Family Foundation

Clarifies Roles Within the Organization

Because a successful strategic plan outlines your nonprofit’s goals and gives specific timelines on how to achieve them, it clarifies the roles and responsibilities of your team members within the organization.

Your strategic plan will help your staff, board of directors , and anyone else working with your nonprofit understand what their roles are within the organization. That way, everyone can stay on task and know how their contributions are critical to achieving the larger goals of the nonprofit.

Values Team Members' Contributions

A strategic plan also helps to show your nonprofit’s staff how important their contributions are. Having a nonprofit strategic plan is a great way to illustrate how valuable your team is to achieving success and furthering your organization’s impact.

Your plan should illustrate how each team member contributes to making your nonprofit’s vision a reality. This clarification can be incredibly motivating because your team clearly knows that their efforts are making a difference.

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What is the difference between a nonprofit business plan and a strategic plan.

You may be wondering whether you really need a nonprofit strategic plan because you already have a business plan .

While they may seem similar, business plans and strategic plans serve distinct purposes. We will outline some of their key differences and use cases below.

Key Components of a Nonprofit Business Plan

Both a nonprofit strategic plan and a business plan support a nonprofit’s overall mission. However, a business plan focuses on three key elements for the nonprofit: ‍

A business plan is more of a guide for how the organization will run successfully—the finances, goods and services, marketing techniques, and overall operations of the organization.

On the other hand, the nonprofit strategic plan will be guided by a specific goal or goals during a specific point of time—one year, three years, five years, etc.

Here are some key elements that a typical nonprofit business will include:

  • Detailed budgets
  • Financial reports
  • Marketing plans
  • Financial projections
  • Audience and team information
  • Impact and operational plans

As you can see, a business plan focuses more on the practical operational side of your nonprofit organization.

Key Elements of a Strategic Plan

The key elements of a nonprofit strategic plan are determined by two things: the goals of the plan and the type of plan that is used to achieve those goals.

Each type of plan, however, should include the following:

  • Who is working on the plan and their designated role;
  • The time frame of the plan; and
  • Any adjustments that may need to be made to meet the established goals.

Duration and Time Frame

Most nonprofit strategic plans will run anywhere from one to five years, depending on which strategic plan you need and the goals of the plan. Those involved in the strategic plan should meet regularly—maybe every quarter—to make sure the plan is on track or if adjustments need to be made.

A business plan may also be a blueprint of three to five years, but most business plans usually cover one year of goals and objectives.

Target Audience and Stakeholders

The target audience and stakeholders of a nonprofit strategic plan will depend on the goals of the plan.

In general, you should reach out to key staff members who are working on the short- and long-term goals, board members, and important community partners who also play a role in achieving the goals within the plan.

In business plans, the target audience is usually the end user of the product. Therefore, most business plans focus on why their product is a good fit for this demographic. For a nonprofit, these are the benefactors of your supporters.

Role in Organizational Development and Growth

Nonprofit strategic plans play an important role in organizational development and growth. Not only are these plans a great way to engage new donors, but they can also help make your staff feel valued and important to achieving your organization's goals.

In a similar way, nonprofit business plans will focus on how your nonprofit makes a difference in your community over a period of time. It will document milestones of growth in actionable ways.

Flexibility and Adaptability

A nonprofit strategic plan is a living document, which means it is flexible enough to adapt with the environment and the nonprofit’s need for change. This is why having regular team meetings is key—that way, the team can assess whether the strategic plan is on track or adaptations are needed to better meet the goals.

Business plans are also an operational roadmap, and with that also comes flexibility. There are things that may come up that you cannot predict in a business plan. So, keeping it flexible as your nonprofit grows will help your organization adapt to changing times.

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 .

3. Choose the Strategic Planning Model

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. Here are the most common to choose from:

  • Issue-Based Planning Model: This begins with the identification and analysis of key issues and then formulates strategies to address these issues. It's often used when there are pressing problems that require immediate attention.
  • Goals-Based Planning Model : This model is popular as it helps organizations define clear, measurable objectives and then develop strategies to achieve these goals. It ensures alignment between an organization's mission and its actions.
  • Balanced Scorecard Model : The balanced scorecard is a common choice for organizations looking to balance financial and non-financial performance metrics to measure and manage their strategies effectively.
  • Scenario Planning Model : Scenario planning is employed by organizations that want to be prepared for a range of potential future scenarios, making it common in industries with high uncertainty.

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: “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.

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.

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Helpful Resources for Nonprofit Strategic Plans

For those looking to draft their nonprofit strategic plan, Instrumentl provides easy-to-use nonprofit strategic planning templates that can guide you through the process.

Instrumentl Easy-to-Use Nonprofit Strategic Planning Templates

These free strategic planning templates for nonprofits will guide you through the process from beginning to end. Check them out today!

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.

Using these clear goals as the backbone of your strategic plan will help your nonprofit be successful in reaching your goals.

Up next, pair this guide with our guide to the characteristics of successful nonprofits . Doing so will help you benchmark your nonprofit and where the opportunities are to improve.

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Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations: Common Models and Best Practices

A well-rounded nonprofit strategic plan is essential whether the internal or external states are critical or not. Many organizations leverage strategic planning to secure funds, increase reach, and scale services. According to BDO’s 2024 Outlook, 62% of nonprofits consider strategic alliances with other organizations in the next 12 months.

Strategic planning nonprofit organizations always have the upper hand in handling both critical and day-to-day scenarios. Having a thought-through blueprint allows for acting mindfully and leveraging every team member’s unique advantages. Thus, according to the Nonprofit Sector Leadership Report, strategically wise nonprofits have the following benefits compared to organizations without strong strategic capabilities:

  • 7% more likely to engage in partnerships.
  • 14% more likely to take a calculated risk.
  • 15% more likely to implement annual CEO reviews.
  • 25% more likely to implement efficiency evaluation practices across the organization.

However, as much as 49% of nonprofits struggle to formulate and execute strategic plans. This time, Board-room.org has explored all the vital elements of developing a solid strategic plan for nonprofits and put a white paper that you can put into practice after reading.

How to enhance the efficiency of the board ?

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What is strategic planning for nonprofit organizations? 

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 strategic planning for nonprofits means creating a detailed resume of all the instruments and techniques that will contribute to the main goal.

The overall strategic planning process varies depending on the organization’s standing in the community, the external forces, and the internal dynamics. That’s why nonprofit firms might take different approaches to it.  

But at the same time, the essential strategic planning process steps for nonprofits remain constant. Here are five key phases of putting together a strong strategy:

  • Outlining the ultimate goal . Commercial organizations aim to earn revenue, but for nonprofits, the money they make is just an instrument that assists with making an impact. Any earnings are reinvested into the nonprofit organization to promote its 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 a fundraising strategic plan for nonprofits . The main task of every nonprofit is to attract awareness and raise funds. There are always multiple solutions to acquiring strategic planning resources for nonprofits, and the organization’s task 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.

How nonprofit strategic planning differs from the corporate sector?

While nonprofits are typically 501(c) tax-exempt organizations , their operating models resemble those of corporate businesses regarding financial management, human resources, and leadership structures. However, there are fundamental differences between nonprofit and corporate strategic planning processes. Let’s check the differences in the comparative table.

Common nonprofit strategic planning 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 strategic planning for nonprofit organizations, 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 planning needs to focus on the issues within. The task is to spot the weak elements and craft a problem-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 fundraising strategy and 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, long-term planning, as in a board succession plan

Alignment planning

Aligning nonprofit strategic planning and implementation is a must 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, a lack of alignment can happen due to inadequate strategic 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 organization 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 nonprofit strategic plan. It includes annual planning (usually for a 3-year or 5-year term). This strategizing method builds off the organization’s main goals in times of internal and external stability.

Standard style planning starts with outlining an organization’s 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 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 robust nonprofit risk management plan . 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 create a strategic plan for a nonprofit?

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.

  • Governance. Establish a strategic planning committee. Follow nonprofit governance best practices to ensure the optimal composition of the planning committee. It will help you accumulate diverse perspectives and formulate a comprehensive plan.
  • Research . Gather data on all possible contributors to your cause. The research stage will include getting to know other companies that operate with similar purposes, finding people and other 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 helps describe the correlation between the organization’s internal values and the impact you’re aiming to make. Outlining the values also lets all contributors 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.
  • Progress evaluation . Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to track efforts based on your strategic goals. While KPIs may vary depending on the nonprofit and its objectives, here are a few common metrics to consider.

One solution to common strategic issues for nonprofit organization

Many nonprofit boards follow common misconceptions about strategic planning, often originated from the lack of financing. Here are two main misconceptions inhibiting the strategic efforts of nonprofits.

1. You can save on HR development

Statista has revealed that 43.3% of U.S. nonprofits name rising operating expenses as the biggest challenge. Many organizations, especially small nonprofits, limit staff financing, relying on volunteers, to allocate scarce resources more diligently. However, professional staff is essential to nonprofit success and should be one of the top priorities in the organization.

2. Administrative costs should be reduced

Charity Navigator recommends nonprofits spend less than 30% of their budgets on infrastructure, IT systems, and innovations. Donors also believe nonprofits should cut these expenses as much as possible, which is a common misconception. 

The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle study has revealed that overhead spending levels should be much higher than recommended by Charity Navigator. For instance, the study suggests that 35% of overhead spending positively impacts cultural nonprofits.

Free strategic plan template for nonprofits : What should a nonprofit strategic plan include?

Here’s a generalized nonprofit strategic plan example. Remember 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 plan’s key points, clarifying its purpose for anyone who didn’t participate in strategizing. It’s a good idea to write this segment last.
  • Board authorization is 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.
  • The values statement outlines the culture of your organization. As discussed above, its values should be directly tied to your nonprofit’s mission and serve as a guide for all contributors.
  • 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.
  • One-page SWOT summary works as both a base for your strategic plan for nonprofit 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 planning for nonprofit organizations template cover anything that can add more value, illustrate data, or support any plan element. For example, you can include things like:
  • Task management framework
  • Strategic planning approach description
  • Research data and analysis
  • Operating budgets
  • Financial reports
  • Communication channels description
  • Strategic plan renewal schedule

Writing a strategic plan for a nonprofit 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.

Another crucial aspect of the strategic planning process for nonprofits is developing comprehensive bylaws that outline the rules and regulations governing the organization’s operations, board structure, and decision-making processes.

You can use our guide to learn how to write bylaws for a nonprofit organization and use them as a foundation for internal governance and management. 

3 nonprofit strategic planning examples

Below, you can check three examples of strategic plans for nonprofits. You can find seven more examples in our whitepaper.

1. YWCA 3-Year Strategic Direction

  • Key elements : A message from the CEO, achievements during the COVID-19 pandemic, regional context, mission, vision, value statements, and measurable objectives.
  • Hallmark : Visual storytelling, concise structure, infographics.
  • Link : YWCA 3-Year Strategic Direction .

2. YMCA DC Strategic Plan 2015 – 2017

  • Key elements : Organisation’s description, executive summary, goals, and measurements of success.
  • Hallmark : Brevity, attractive visuals.
  • Link : YMCA DC Strategic Plan 2025 – 2017.

3. Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres Canada Strategic Plan 2020 – 2023

  • Key elements : Mission and vision statements, values, and strategic priorities.
  • Hallmark : Conciseness, attractive visuals.
  • Link : MSF Canada Strategic Plan 2020 – 2023: In Essence

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Strategic planning for nonprofit organizations: Two best practices

Extra research coupled with robust stakeholder communication campaigns will help you maximize your strategic efforts. Below, you can check the two best practices to extend research and mission alignment aspects.

Peer organization research

Successful nonprofit leaders conduct extensive peer research while developing strategic plans. It helps to establish performance benchmarks within scenario planning, align expectations, and reveal effective but overlooked approaches. Here are the ways to conduct benchmarking:

  • Conduct benchmarking interviews . Nonprofits can interview similar organizations with similar challenges to share experiences and access networking opportunities.
  • Research case studies and industry literature . Case studies, research papers, and meta-studies reveal hidden risks and opportunities in specific scenarios. A researched example of a strategic plan for a nonprofit organization can also help you build realistic expectations.

Communication planning

To ensure effective execution, one should communicate the strategic plan effectively. Here are a few practices to update key stakeholders on strategic initiatives and align their perspectives:

  • Invest in workshops and presentations. Walk your stakeholders through the strategic plan. Answer the questions and promote discussions.
  • Tell a compelling story . Present the plan as a relatable narrative. Use graphs, charts, and infographics to provide information in a digestible format.
  • Leverage communication channels wisely . Distribute the executive summary of your strategic plan alongside the full document in the channels your board and staff regularly use. Besides emails, use corporate chats and social media.

What tool to use for creating and sharing nonprofit strategic plans?

A board portal is a management tool that boards can use to securely collaborate and share board materials, including strategic plans. This helps to ensure board of directors cybersecurity , avoid strategic issues, and increase efficiency. This is possible due to a variety of features that providers offer:

Document management features:

  • Drag-n-drop to upload documents quickly
  • Bulk upload to upload many files simultaneously
  • Storage to store all confidential data in one place absolutely securely
  • Sharing to distribute board documents and worksheets safely and have paperless board meetings 
  • Scheduling to choose the date and assign participants quickly and easily
  • Agenda builder to choose a board meeting agenda template , complete it with the required data, and share it with board members 
  • Minutes to choose a board meeting minutes template , fill it in after the meeting, and share it with the rest of the team

Collaboration features:

  • Voting to get answers and make decisions fast
  • E-signature to get signatures and approvals in one click
  • Task assignment to create a task, set a deadline, and assign an expert
  • Progress tracking to monitor the team’s performance

Communication features:

  • Chats to discuss business-related questions securely and n real-time
  • Video calls to gather board members online and conduct virtual board meetings

You can have a look at the board portal comparison and choose which provider suits your needs the most.

The bottom line

  • A strategic plan summarizes the organization’s goals and outlines actionable achievement steps . Common strategic planning models include organic, issue-based, alignment, standard, and real-time.
  • Successful organizations develop strategic plans in six steps: governance , research , SWOT analysis , objective establishment , impact alignment , and progress evaluation .
  • The most common misconception about nonprofit strategic planning is to allocate minimal resources to staff development and administrative management . Studies reveal that nonprofits’ infrastructure and human resources are chronically underfinanced.
  • Peer research helps nonprofits broaden strategic perspectives while strong stakeholder communications improve execution. Board management software is one of the best strategic planning tools for nonprofits to improve communications.

How to develop a strategic plan for a nonprofit?

There are five fundamental components to a strategic plan for a nonprofit: research, SWOT analysis , SMART objectives outlining, impact and values alignment consideration, member and community input examination.

What are the strategic planning goals for nonprofits?

Any nonprofit’s goal is to make an impact. And all the strategies have to align with reaching that goal. For example, if a nonprofit focuses on delivering housing options, the strategies can involve fundraising events, networking with real estate companies, and communicating with communities to explore their unique needs.

What are the essential components of strategic planning for a nonprofit?

Once the ultimate goal is outlined, the directors must gather input from stakeholders and contributors. Based on the collective vision, the board will then indicate the most fitting marketing and fundraising strategies, set long and short-term objectives, and outline the exact steps for achieving these objectives.

Why is strategic planning important for nonprofits?

Because nonprofits are often driven by volunteers. This means the most time-saving and effective way for them to approach governance is by strictly adhering to a thought-out strategy.

Who is responsible for strategic planning at nonprofit organizations?

Strategic planning work is executed by members of the board. However, strategic planning should also include the best practices for managing the board of directors , including training and succession planning.

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Nonprofit Strategic Plan: A Rundown & How To Create Your Own

What does the future look like for your nonprofit?

There’s no need to guess—instead, you can create a nonprofit strategic plan to outline your goals toward accomplishing your organization’s mission. Your plan can guide your efforts to fundraise, grow the size of your organization, and ultimately, help you do more for the beneficiaries you serve.

No matter what type of nonprofit you’re a part of, there are a few essentials you’ll need to know to create your next strategic plan that you’ll want to incorporate as you work to shape your organization’s future. In this guide, we’ll give you a leg up by covering:

All About Nonprofit Strategic Planning

  • How Your Nonprofit Can Benefit From a Strategic Plan

Strategic Planning Steps to Follow

5 examples of strong nonprofit strategic plans.

  • Free Nonprofit Strategic Plan Template

As you get started with your own strategic planning process, remember to be ambitious but realistic (and flexible!) as you envision your organization’s future and set the goals that you want to achieve.

Click through to contact Averill Solutions and get started on your nonprofit strategic plan.

Before you dive into nonprofit strategic planning, you should have a solid understanding of the fundamentals. In this section, we’ll cover all the basics you should know.

What is a nonprofit strategic plan?

This image and the text below define what a strategic plan is.

A nonprofit strategic plan is a document that lays out the goals that will get you closer to accomplishing your mission. Think of your strategic plan as a way of transforming your nonprofit’s ideals—such as the impact you’d like to have on the community in which you operate—into specific actions your organization can accomplish within a defined period of time.

How far ahead do I need to plan?

Typically strategic plans are created with the next three to five years in mind, but more and more organizations are creating strategic plans intended to last one to three years. This shorter time frame is in many ways ideal, as it provides your organization with more opportunities to respond to changes in the wider nonprofit sector as well as the communities you serve.

Who should be involved in strategic planning?

You’ll want to involve multiple stakeholders in planning for your nonprofit’s future. This will help you ensure that you’re setting goals you can achieve and that will truly make a difference to your mission in the long term. Specifically, you should involve:

  • Your board. Your board members and other individuals involved in your nonprofit’s leadership should use some of their communications and meeting time to work on creating definite goals to include in your strategic plan that help further your mission in the community.
  • Your staff. Your staff members have various roles in your nonprofit’s operations and can thus provide helpful perspectives on your strong points and potential areas of improvement. Both they and your board members can provide insight into how your organization is perceived by those who benefit from your work and those who support you.
  • Your consultant. Your nonprofit’s team can develop a strategic plan using your own knowledge as well as resources available online. However, if you would like to incorporate the outside perspective of a consultant , you’ll want them to be involved from the earliest stages of the process so that they can help you create the most effective strategic plan.
  • Your key community partners. Local politicians, business owners, and community members who are invested in your work and want to see your nonprofit succeed can offer a unique perspective. Involve them to see how your mission can continue to be delivered successfully and decide which goals will have a lasting impact on your beneficiaries.

Collaboration is the key to a successful nonprofit strategic plan. When everyone involved in the process—your board, your staff, your volunteers, your consultant, and members of the communities you serve—understands your goals and the steps you’re taking to reach them, your strategic plan will guide your nonprofit to new levels of success.

How Your Nonprofit Can Benefit From A Strategic Plan

Engaging in nonprofit strategic planning not only sets your organization up for taking action toward your long-term goals over the coming months and years; it also provides a wealth of other benefits. Specifically, your nonprofit can:

  • Align your team and goals with your larger mission. Any goal-setting process is a chance for you and your internal team to review your current state and your desired goals, and to gauge whether you’re on track to accomplish your mission down the road.
  • Actively engage your stakeholders. Strategic planning is a process that your board of directors, major givers, and even corporate and community partners can all take part in. As they help you design your vision for your organization’s future, their investment in your work will deepen and you will be able to proactively identify further opportunities for them to be involved in your goals.
  • Plan to make the most of your available resources. Running a nonprofit means making the most out of limited resources. By carefully planning the goals your organization wants to work toward in the next few years, you can prepare to allocate your resources to maximize both impact and efficiency.
  • Set your organization up to track progress toward large goals. It’s important to track your progress toward large goals. When you know what those goals are for the foreseeable future, you can actively monitor your progress by tracking metrics, looking for patterns and trends, and adjusting your approach as needed to move your entire team closer to success.
  • Prepare your nonprofit to make decisions based on your values and top priorities. A strategic plan can act as a litmus test and give you something to measure your decisions against. If a project or initiative will help you get closer to the long-term goals outlined in your plan, it can be an easy thing to say yes to. If not, you can work to make adjustments to proposed ideas and options that will better align them with your strategic plan and, ultimately, your larger mission.

There’s no question that creating a thorough nonprofit strategic plan takes time and effort. However, as you envision the future state of your nonprofit, you’ll not only tap into the benefits above but also unify your community around your shared commitment to your mission.

To create your own strategic plan, there are a few tried-and-true steps you and your team can follow:

1. Partner with a consultant for guidance throughout the strategic planning process.

The nonprofit strategic planning process requires you to examine each aspect of your organization—the roles of your team members, the procedures under which you operate, and the work you do for the communities you serve—closely and thoroughly. Doing so objectively can be difficult for your organization’s team. You may benefit from the external guidance of a nonprofit strategic planning consultant .

If your organization is planning to partner with a consultant to create your next strategic plan, it’s important that you put in the necessary research to choose the best consultant to suit your specific needs. As you consider your options, ensure that you’re working to select a consultant who:

  • Understands your mission and needs. While the consultant you hire will help you develop overarching goals and measurable objectives during the strategic planning process, you’ll want to select someone who understands your mission and the work you do even before you begin your collaboration.
  • Matches your nonprofit’s size and experience level. You’ll have the most success with a consultant that helps your organization build your capacity by first meeting you where you are. The projects that you develop under the guidance of your consultant should help your nonprofit grow without extending beyond reasonable limits.
  • Is prepared to be included in each step of the strategic planning process. The nonprofit strategic planning process isn’t complete once a final draft of the first document is drawn up and circulated among your team members. The best strategic planning consultant for your organization is one who understands that revisions will inevitably occur and who will help you make these decisions as the need for them arises.

2. Collaborate to define your nonprofit strategic planning goals.

Even shorter nonprofit strategic plans are intended to address many aspects of your organization over relatively long periods of time. As your board members, staff, and other individuals involved with your organization work together in the early stages of the strategic planning process, your first step should be to evaluate your organization’s current standing so that you can define reasonable yet ambitious goals for your strategic plan.

One highly-effective starting place for evaluating your nonprofit and beginning to define your goals for your next strategic plan is an analysis of your strengths, challenges, opportunities, and vulnerabilities.

The people involved in the various aspects of your organization’s work will each have different and valuable considerations for each category, but they may include:

This image and the text below describe how to assess your strengths, challenges, opportunities, and vulnerabilities when designing your nonprofit strategic plan.

  • Strengths. What aspects of your nonprofit’s operations, structure, and team have been responsible for your most significant recent successes? Perhaps you have particularly successful programs, a well-connected board, enthusiastic volunteers, or a generous and loyal base of supporters. Perhaps you have all of these strengths, and seek to expand them.
  • Challenges. Just as your nonprofit undoubtedly has unique strengths, it’s likely that you’ve encountered some recurring operational challenges. Identifying these can help you set some early goals for your strategic plan to make your organization even better than it already is. Staff retention, a lack of new faces on the board, and flat fundraising might be challenges affecting your nonprofit.
  • Opportunities. Building on your current strengths, brainstorm opportunities for your nonprofit that you can transform into concrete goals. Are there ways to improve communications among your team, for instance, or areas of your community that could benefit from your organization’s work? How can you expand impact? Refresh the board? Raise more money?
  • Vulnerabilities. Not all of the challenges that your nonprofit may have to face are connected to your organization’s operations or structure. If there are external reasons that you may have trouble connecting with your community or reaching your fundraising goals, for instance, you’ll want to address these in your nonprofit strategic plan.

Once your team has worked together to identify some of the internal and external strengths and challenges that will shape your strategic plan and used them to set some preliminary goals, you can begin the process of defining those goals in measurable terms.

3. Use your strategic planning goals to develop measurable objectives.

Regardless of your nonprofit’s specific goals and objectives, you’ll benefit from identifying ways to reach them through the process of capacity building. Capacity building activities and projects are those that facilitate the deepening of your nonprofit’s mission and impact and allow you to maintain the good work you’re already doing.

Transforming broader goals derived from your mission into specific and measurable objectives is an important part of the strategic planning process. Whether you’re partnering with a nonprofit fundraising consultant to identify opportunities for capacity building or using your team’s knowledge and resources, your strategic plan will benefit from the inclusion of specific projects intended to help you reach your goals through actionable steps.

Examples of capacity building projects like those that your organization may incorporate into your strategic plan may include:

  • Mapping out the future of your organization’s leadership. When your current executives move up in your organization or choose to take advantage of other opportunities, who will succeed them? Reevaluating and more clearly defining the structure of your nonprofit’s leadership can be beneficial to your organization’s efficacy.
  • Investing in new technology. Staying connected with your supporters online is increasingly important for building your nonprofit’s brand recognition and encouraging giving. Upgrading your organization’s technology is a capacity building project that can benefit both your supporters and your team members.
  • Recruiting more volunteers. Without the dedication and hard work of your volunteers, your nonprofit couldn’t accomplish all of the good work you do for the communities you serve. Especially if one of your goals is to extend your reach to include new communities or new means of serving them, recruiting volunteers is an important capacity building project.
  • Developing a board candidate pipeline. Your board is your organization’s leadership group. Good governance dictates adherence to term limits and an active, disciplined nomination function.

The process of capacity building helps your nonprofit obtain the resources you need to serve your community more effectively. After you’ve transformed large-scale goals into measurable objectives and solidified the resources and structure to achieve those objectives, prioritize your efforts to begin enacting your strategic plan efficiently.

4. Prioritize objectives for your nonprofit strategic plan.

The nonprofit strategic planning process is a collaborative effort involving your board and staff that will require continuous reevaluation throughout the years in which your plan is in effect. Prioritizing the objectives contained within your strategic plan ensures that you work efficiently and make more progress toward achieving your goals.

When it comes to prioritizing objectives, every organization’s needs are different. However, any nonprofit can benefit from categorizing these objectives to better understand how they fit together within your organization’s operations and your overall strategic plan. To help with organizing and prioritizing your objectives, think of them in categories such as:

  • Leadership objectives. Most of the responsibilities for these objectives will be carried out by your board members. Ensure that individual steps in each process are clearly assigned to different leaders and members and that the board communicates frequently to stay updated on their progress.
  • Operations objectives. Carried out in large part by your staff and your volunteers, operations objectives could include improvements to your organization’s internal processes, for example, or more effective means of carrying out your work in the communities you serve.
  • Fundraising objectives. Your organization’s leadership, board members, staff, volunteers, and any fundraising consultants you’ve chosen to partner with will all play important roles in creating and meeting fundraising objectives. These may include finding ways to encourage recurring contributions, increasing giving to your annual fund, or offering supporters new giving methods.

One of the largest fundraising objectives your organization may choose to address is a plan for your next capital campaign . Like the other objectives contained within your plan, this undertaking can be accomplished most efficiently when you break each component of the campaign into steps. Preliminary planning efforts such as the creation of a gift range chart are extremely helpful resources for breaking down and achieving your goals.

While every nonprofit’s goals, objectives, and strategic planning processes are unique, reflecting different missions, priorities, and organizational structures, at least one aspect of the process is common to all organizations: the need for revision as you carry out your plan.

5. Revisit your strategic plan to make necessary adjustments.

As your nonprofit continues pursuing your good work in the communities you serve over time, conditions in these communities and at your organization are bound to shift and change. Your work itself will be responsible for some of these effects, as will external circumstances beyond your organization’s control. Capacity building is important because it leaves your nonprofit with an improved structure and tools that make you capable of maintaining your positive impact even when the details of your strategic plan have to change.

While your organization can’t predict all possible changes as you create your strategic plan, you can take steps throughout the strategic planning process to help ensure that the plan you create will be flexible enough to handle unexpected shifts. These steps include:

  • Developing a theory of change. Especially in the earliest stages of your nonprofit strategic planning process, envisioning and discussing a theory of change—beginning with your mission-based goals and working backward to identify potential paths toward reaching them—is an effective approach to the process. It helps ensure that everyone involved in the planning process has a clear understanding of your overarching goals, even if the paths have to change.
  • Communicating regularly with everyone involved. Nonprofit strategic planning is a team effort, as is realizing the objectives and goals outlined in the plan. Effective communication among all the various participants and components of your organization is essential to keeping your plan updated as circumstances change.
  • Revise your plan as needed. The need for revisions doesn’t mean that your original strategic plan was flawed or lacking—it just means that aspects of your organization or of the communities you serve have changed over time and their needs can be best met in new ways.

With effective collaboration, efficient communication, and adaptability, your nonprofit’s team is capable of creating and updating a successful strategic plan that will help your organization progress no matter what the future brings.

As you begin to outline your own strategic plan for the next few years, take inspiration from other nonprofits’ strategic planning efforts. Here are a few examples to help inspire you:

1. Tiffany Circle Strategic Plan

Tiffany Circle is an organization connected to the American Red Cross. It describes itself as a “community of women leaders who advance the American Red Cross mission through a focused investment of time, talent and treasure by engaging and embracing women locally, nationally and internationally.”

This is a screenshot of the Tiffany Circle strategic plan.

Tiffany Circle’s strategic plan for 2024-2025 is guided by the American Red Cross’s overarching principles and missions, as well as the organization’s own mission statement. On its strategic plan web page, Tiffany Circle outlines its strategic plan themes, as well as its objectives and specific goals related to membership growth, revenue, donations, and volunteer engagement.

Why This Strategic Plan Stands Out

Tiffany Circle’s strategic plan is succinct and simple, making it easy for its leaders, members, and other supporters to access and reference as the organization begins work on its goals for the next two years. It is also strongly rooted in the larger Tiffany Circle mission and the American Red Cross mission.

Check out the Tiffany Circle strategic plan for yourself!

2. Habitat for Humanity Sarasota

Habitat for Humanity Sarasota serves the Sarasota, Florida community with its affordable housing and home repair programs. Over the last 35+ years, the organization has helped improve the living conditions of 400 families.

This is a screenshot of the Habitat for Humanity Sarasota strategic plan.

Habitat for Humanity Sarasota’s strategic plan outlines goals for June 2021-2024. Within its strategic plan document, the organization outlines four major goals related to sustainable organizational growth, increased impact on families in need, new partnerships, and increased public awareness. For each goal, the organization has outlined strategic objectives, specific approaches, and carefully-chosen metrics and targets.

The best strategic plans not only lay out ambitious goals but detail specifically how the organization will reach those goals. Habitat for Humanity Sarasota does just that. For instance, one strategic objective outlined in the plan is “Implement new construction efficiencies.” The metrics and targets identified for this objective include implementing cost-effective construction purchasing and creating new floor plans, providing specific direction for how to achieve the objective.

Take a look at the Habitat for Humanity Sarasota strategic plan.

3. World Wildlife Fund-Pacific

World Wildlife Fund-Pacific (WWF-Pacific) focuses its efforts on conservation and natural resource management in the South Pacific marine environment.

This is a screenshot of the WWF-Pacific strategic plan.

WWF-Pacific’s 2025 strategic plan is an extensive document, sharing the organization’s history, past achievements, and goals to reach by 2025. It also outlines the different ways departments within the organization will help move WWF-Pacific closer to its goals, how the organization will measure progress and impact, and WWF-Pacific’s aspirations for 2030.

This strategic plan is extensive and gives great attention to the little details that will help WWF-Pacific reach ambitious goals. It’s also designed for the public to reference, including engaging original artwork and other helpful visuals to make the content more digestible and useful. One especially impactful section is “Aspirational Headlines for 2025,” which shows the world that WWF-Pacific is striving to design.

Explore WWF-Pacific’s 2025 strategic plan.

4. Atlanta Humane Society

The Atlanta Humane Society has been caring for the Atlanta, Georgia Metro community and its animals for 150 years, providing sheltering, adoption, veterinary care, and community outreach services.

This is a screenshot of the AHS strategic plan.

Atlanta Humane Society’s website provides a strategic plan for 2022-2024. This strategic plan is short and sweet, with a message from the organization’s president, updates on past achievements, and an outline of an overarching goal (“Improve the lives and wellbeing of pets and their people.”), key priorities, and the approach the organization will take to get there.

While there is surely more strategy baked into the goals and priorities outlined on this strategic plan web page, the simplistic approach to how Atlanta Humane Society presents its strategic plan makes it shine. The brevity of the plan allows for flexibility in how the organization reaches its goals and allows for any necessary pivoting or revising should circumstances or needs change in the coming months.

View the Atlanta Humane Society’s strategic plan.

5. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado (BBBS of Colorado) is dedicated to helping children realize their potential by matching children with adult mentors that can help them “ignite the power and promise of youth.”

This is a screenshot of the BBBSC strategic plan.

BBBS of Colorado has a strategic plan for 2022-2025. Its focus areas are superior customer experiences, innovative and impactful programs, and scaled growth with measurable impact. Within its strategic plan document, the organization provides high-level summaries of five “big visions” for its volunteers, participants, and internal team.

The BBBS of Colorado strategic plan is highly focused on the outcomes for its participants, demonstrating that all of its big visions are aligned with its mission. It also includes a message from the organization’s leaders about the organization’s current state and vision for the future, which helps demonstrate the strong collaboration from various teams in the organization to design the plan. Our other favorite element? The video on their strategic plan web page that provides an overview of the plan.

Read through BBBS of Colorado’s 2022-2025 strategic plan.

Free Nonprofit Strategic Planning Template

Now that you’ve reviewed our guidance for designing a nonprofit strategic plan, it’s time to get started on your own. This free template pulls together all the main points you should consider when designing your own plan.

This is our free nonprofit strategic plan template, that pulls together all the guidance in this post.

Nonprofit strategic planning empowers your organization to not just dream about its future but to make a plan to get there. Using this guide, work together with your board, staff members, community partners, and consultant to create a strategic plan that can guide your actions and help you get closer to achieving your mission. You can do it!

Want to keep reading about the world of fundraising? Check out these additional resources:

  • Conducting a Planning and Feasibility Study: A Guide. A planning and feasibility study helps you gauge your readiness for a large campaign. Learn how to conduct one in this guide.
  • Your Capital Campaign Case Statement: How to Write It. A case statement is a central part of a strong capital campaign plan. Get all the writing tips you need in this guide.
  • 7 Steps to Encourage Church Donors During Your Annual Appeal. Preparing for your diocesan annual appeal? Make the most of your fundraising efforts using these tips to encourage church donors.
  • Your Nonprofit’s Annual Fund: Everything You Need to Know. Your annual fund helps you keep your doors open. Learn how to fill and grow yours!
  • Donor Retention: A Crash Course & 11 Winning Strategies. Learn how to retain your givers’ long-term support in this quick guide.

Click to contact Averill Solutions and get started working with a consultant on your nonprofit strategic plan.

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Nonprofit Strategic Planning 101: Your Guide

Nonprofit Strategic Planning 101: Your Guide

You’re not alone if you find strategic planning confusing. You may wonder how to plan it well strategically. That’s why you will find this nonprofit strategic planning guide valuable. It’s crafted to blow fluff away and clear the clutter around your nonprofit strategy and strategic planning.

You can use it to guide a nonprofit’s strategic planning process. If you follow this guide, your strategic plan won’t sit on a shelf and collect dust. Instead, you can create a nonprofit strategic plan that becomes ragged from use. You and your supporters will return to it constantly to move your nonprofit onward and upward.

Nonprofit Strategy Planning 101 Contents

What is a nonprofit strategic plan.

  • How Will You Know That You Created a Successful Nonprofit Strategy? 

When Is It Time to Develop a Strategy for Your Nonprofit?

  • Why is the Strategic Planning Process Especially Valuable for the New CEO?
  • Whom Should You Invite to Participate in a Strategic Planning Process?

Who Selects Your Nonprofit’s Strategy?

What happens in a nonprofit strategy selection session.

  • Watch Out: The Biggest Nonprofit Strategic Planning Hazard

What Tools Do You Recommend to Monitor Implementation?

Your nonprofit strategic plan is a customized-designed master plan that lays out how you grow your revenue and supporters and achieve more mission results. A nonprofit strategic plan includes two parts:

  •  the strategy and
  • a document that outlines how you will use your strategy, AKA the  strategic plan.

Your strategic plan includes objectives, the results you seek, and how you will achieve and measure them.

The objectives are what you hope to achieve. Some people prefer to label these goals. For example, you select one goal to grow your members, donors, and volunteers.

Key results reflect what success looks like and how you will measure it. You might decide that the outcome you seek is to increase your membership by 100 percent over three years.

Methods are the tactics you will use to achieve your objectives and the success you plan to measure. They are the “hows.” For example, you might improve your membership packages by adding “insider benefits.” Your “hows” are your methods.

How Will You Know That You Created a Successful Nonprofit Strategic Planning Process?

Your process is how you create your strategic plan, the steps you will take, the order in which you will take them, and who will be involved. Knowing what you want and what’s possible will motivate you and others to develop a strategy and strategic plan. So, this section lists the success criteria of a top-notch nonprofit strategy process.

  • Using your strategic plan, you can see how it will increase your resources, supporters, and revenue.
  • The strategic plan outlines  specific  ways you will sustain and grow your revenue.
  • Your stakeholders (board, staff, active members, funders) embrace the strategy.
  • The plan identifies staffing needs and board growth activities and pinpoints critical performance indicators.
  • The plan incorporates realistic, concrete, and ambitious approaches that uplift your nonprofit. (Anyone reading the plan will believe you can do it, but  it will be a stretch.)
  • You use the plan immediately. You start the programs and enhance current activities before the plan becomes “official” because the process energizes you, and the next steps are clear.

Ultimately, your nonprofit strategic planning works if you and your nonprofit emerge stronger. And you meet your goals. “ Before the strategy retreat, board members were emailing, calling, and texting me—even on the weekends after the event, that stopped. The board now knows its job. They understand it includes fiduciary responsibilities. It’s not only about showing up at meetings or micromanaging the staff. ” ( Sarah Pallone , Executive Director,  Highland County Habitat for Humanity

How Will You Know That You Created a Successful Nonprofit Strategy?

text quote, the strategy is the most important part of a nonprofit strategic plan

Successful strategies provide the framework for overcoming the critical roadblocks restricting your nonprofit’s three bottom lines: growing supporters, generating revenue, and growing mission.

How can you test this? Your board and even strangers on the street agree that your strategy has the potential to succeed. The approach is logical, solves multiple challenges, and is forward-looking.

Successful nonprofit strategies:

1) Outlines How You Will Win

Successful strategies provide the framework for overcoming the  critical roadblocks restricting your nonprofit’s three bottom lines: growing supporters, generating revenue, and growing mission. How can you test this? Your board and even strangers on the street agree that your strategy has the potential to succeed. The approach is logical, solves multiple challenges, and is forward-looking.

2) Is Clear, Succinct, and Gets Used a Lot  

Successful strategies get used daily. You want the front desk volunteer to understand the larger framework of your work so she can prioritize her tasks when the front desk gets busy. Likewise, dynamic strategies become a sieve for prioritizing work, deciding, and measuring progress. Therefore, you’ve created a great strategy when you can explain it in a tweet-length sentence that a newcomer finds easy to grasp and repeat. Over time, effective strategies generate “earworms.” People ask, “Which option reflects our strategy?”

3) Long-Term Potential

Your strategic plan–the planning document that lists your strategy goals, methods, and dashboards might get completed (you used all the methods), or the plan might need to be revised as the market condition changes. Still, you might recycle your strategy if the approach continues to provide wins, growing supporters, revenue, and mission results. Super-successful strategies have been used for decades because they still guide nonprofit organizations to more and more success. Even if you need a new plan every few years, a successful strategy has heft and uniquely fits you and your situation.

Test Your Understanding of the Nonprofit Strategy

“Strategy” is one of those words. It’s used frequently and imprecisely in the sector, and even people who are active in strategy work misuse it. Watch for the word. Whether you hear or read it, the odds are greater than 50 percent that the term will be misused.

Here are four quotations from recent articles that mention strategy. Which of the four quotes uses the word correctly?

  • “In their strategy, nonprofits must acknowledge the hardships people are experiencing and then make fundraising asks from a place of empathy.”
  • “A nonprofit executive leading in times of uncertainty ramps up their stakeholder engagement strategy, providing empathy and selfless help to all around them, while cutting both their burn rate and all nonessential business activities.”
  • “In short, the transition strategy is the best available. “The market is winding down the coal industry, and these workers need jobs to support their families. We can provide good-paying jobs to these skilled workers while restoring the land to productive use . . .”
  • “Needless to say, in reimagining your organization, you’ll need to determine how much it will cost to do what you want, plus you’ll develop an intentional revenue strategy.”

If you guessed three and four, you’re correct. Congratulations!

In number one, the word tactic or technique would be a better word choice. In number two, the sentence would be more precise without the word. Stakeholder engagement is a tactic. The third and fourth correctly reflect an overall game plan to win.

Four Challenges Caused by Using Strategy Incorrectly

Why does misusing the word strategy matter? When you or others misuse it, your nonprofit risks:

  • Looking unprofessional
  • Failing to generate the big-picture plan to needs to win
  • Confusing donors (When donors get confused, they don’t give.)

Learn more about mistakes nonprofits make talking by watching this  video.

Many nonprofits embark on strategic planning on a routine basis, creating a new strategy every two or three years. Others plan only when someone requests it, usually a grant funder or donor.

But when do you need a new strategy?

  • Still, provide a masterplan to win,
  • It remains easy to understand,
  • It helps you to decide on priorities and tough choices.

If your current strategy meets these criteria, you need a new strategic plan,  not a new approach.

Successful nonprofits preserve the same strategy for years to build momentum and simplify operations.

For example, while I wrote 7 Nonprofit Income Streams , I interviewed Kumar Mahadevan near the end of his 35-year tenure. Under his leadership, Mote Marine Laboratory grew from a small research lab into a significant institution.

One secret of Mote’s success under his leadership was their financial strategy. In the late 1970s, Mote’s leaders realized that Mote needed individual donations from the community to fund research- the Laboratory’s mission. This realization became Mote’s financial strategy for decades.

In the 1970s, Mote began youth programs using this community donation strategy. They developed science education resources and summer camps for local children. In the 1980s, Mote added an aquarium. This facility provided over one million dollars in operating support and 352,000 visitors. Later, using the same master plan, Mote added limited-time exhibits to the aquarium, including visits with penguins and sea lions. While the programs, aquariums, and special exhibits look like mission-earned revenue enterprises, their strategic function is to create and renew relationships with local donors.

Mote’s example brings us back to your strategy. You need a new strategy when your current one isn’t helping you win, cannot be rapidly understood, and fails to help you make decisions.

When Is the BEST Time to Begin the Strategic Planning Process?

at its heart strategic planning is about listening

When should you start? Here are three ideal times to begin strategic planning:

1. Now, if Your Strategy is Ineffective 

Running an organization without an effective strategy is like randomly walking through Chicago O’Hare Airport, looking for your gate without checking which concourse and gate you need. You might miss your flight, and you miss many opportunities to do flight prep. If you lack an effective strategy, create one now.

You might need a new strategic plan even if you just created one.

You might even need to create a strategy if you just completed one. A new nonprofit arts organization CEO called. His predecessor invested in a strategic planning process as his final act.

The result was a list of platitudes applicable to any organization. The strategy wasn’t helpful for decision-making. It failed to outline how the organization would win, and everyone was confused about what to do next.

Even though the board fussed at the expense, the CEO invested in creating a master plan. To make an effort acceptable, we gave the process a new name, added some missing elements,  and built on the previous work. Our new strategy empowered the nonprofit to double its revenue in two years more than making the time and resource investment a bargain.

2. Four  to Six Months Before the Plan for Your Current Strategy “Runs Out.”

Whether you engage in a complete strategic planning process or an update, start the process four months before your current implementation plan ends. You will not need all this time. (You can complete a valuable process in a day! (Let’s chat  about how this might work for you.) Ninety days allow ideas to sprout, take root, and blossom.

Just as leaving early for the airport reduces traffic and security line delays stress, starting four or six months out promotes thoughtfulness, flexibility, and less stress. Four months provides a chance to clear the decks and deal with naysayers. (Watch: Nonprofit Strategy for Strategic Planning Haters. ) It includes time for lots of stakeholders to engage. You can have it ready to implement before your old plan expires.

3. When Your Stuck, Confused, or Experiencing Struggles

At times, instead of moving forward, nonprofits get stuck. Even if your strategy is sound and implementation tasks remain undone, the strategic planning process asks questions that help you to blow up roadblocks and find clarity. The strategic planning process involves listening to many different voices to hear the underlying music. The experience can clarify if conflicting visions exist or if the disagreement is about tactics. The process can identify missing steps and move you from stuck to flow and compromises that give everyone something they want that is greater than the sum of everyone’s wish list.

Why Is the Strategic Planning Process Especially Valuable for New CEOs?

First off, you’re new. Strategic planning when you start is brilliant. So it’s never your fault, but it is about to be your problem.

The process allows the new CEO to:

  • Connect with stakeholders
  • Reveal what’s in the shadows
  • Collect the insights needed to lead
  • Weave old ways of thinking with your way of doing .

Who Should You Invite to Participate in a Strategic Planning Process?

Okay, you decided your organization needs a new or updated strategic plan. Who might you invite to contribute to it? As many people as possible!

The following groups of people will help you to identify prospects you might want to include in your strategic planning process. They can share perspectives, insights, and clarity about your community’s role and opportunities.

1. The Usual Suspects

The suspects are your board members, major donors, founders, staff, volunteers, and customers.

2. Your Nonprofits Friends and Partners

Leaders from other entities can provide insights, recommendations, and trend updates. Consider asking individuals from these organizations to participate:

  • Friends of your organization and people in your network
  • Individuals from organizations to whom you send or receive customers
  • Trusted partners in cooperative endeavors, for example, a partner from a joint grant project
  • Representatives of your state, province, or national industry association
  • Past and current vendors such as bankers, CPAs, and graphic artists, primarily if they service multiple nonprofits.

3. Past Friends and Prospects

Look back and forward in time to identify other individuals to invite. Consider including people with whom you’d like to refresh a relationship or build a stronger connection. Looking back, you reach out to retired and former leaders, including directors and board members. Looking forward, you contact prospective board members, donors, and funders. For example, one client reached out to a former Ford Foundation executive to gain insight into the Foundation’s perspective on needs in the nonprofit’s focus area.

As you’ve already realized, this is a lot of people!

Why is engaging a lot of people worth the effort? Scientific American states , “By asking someone to share his or her wisdom, advice seekers stroke the advisor’s ego and can gain valuable insights.” Your organization will receive ideas, buy-in, positive branding, and understanding how others see your nonprofit. Most importantly, you gain clarity about your options on how your nonprofit might win and wisdom to insert into your strategy and implementation plans. Moreover, people invited to participate have more buy-in in the outcome. Plus, there is the nonprofit adage, “Ask for money, get advice. Ask for advice, get money.”

Does this mean that everyone I ask has to participate the same way?

No. You have lots of options for engaging people. Some individuals might receive a telephone call, others an invitation to join a focus group, and still, others fill out a survey about specific questions. You can ask others to review draft documents or send them an email or text asking for information on a method or measurement to use. Failing to cast a wide net is among the seven common mistakes nonprofits make when undertaking strategic planning. For more about this error, watch Failing to Cast a Wide Net. 

text quote: the best strategy is often obvious and leaders unite around it

During the community listening phase of your nonprofit strategic planning process, you’ll ask many people to participate in your work. However, you don’t need or want a crowd to pick your strategy. For this activity, you need your top leaders, especially those with strategic thinking skills.

Your board is the most logical group to select your strategy. However, another option is a task force comprised of community, staff, and board members. For community efforts, consider creating a streaming committee comprised of leaders with a stake in the outcome, connections to help with the plan’s implementation, and analytical thinking skills to guide the effort and decide on the strategy. Your invitation list for a steering committee will include business, civic, foundation, nonprofit, and government representatives.

You’ve gathered the stakeholders to meet and select your strategy after listening, organizing, and analyzing all you’ve heard and discussed during your strategic planning process. What work can you accomplish in your nonprofit strategy selection session?

Karen’s Six Tasks to Manage at Your Nonprofit Strategy Session

Here are the six recommended steps I include in nonprofit strategy selection sessions:

1. A Review of Your Mission, Vision, and Values

You’ve been busy listening to the community. Summarize the highlights of your discoveries. Your leaders will be eager to know what you learned and your key takeaways.

2. What You Learned Listening to the Community

3. present strategy options .

Present the collection of five to seven strategy options. Each option represents distinct choices. One way to think of these strategy options is like different directions on a compass. All possibilities should fulfill your mission, move you toward your vision, and allow you to win–that is, be feasible and distinct. For instance, expanding services in another city differs from adding a new line of service to your current offerings. While both require you to add staff, the new town usually requires finding an office location and new customers. Adding a new service, say adding weekend hours for childcare, may allow you to continue to serve your current customers (parents who have weekend hours) in your current location.

4. Establish Evaluation Criteria

The options you present will generate discussions of which options are best. Before your leaders dig in, you want to establish your criteria for comparing options so that all your musts are met, and as many of your wants get covered as possible.

5. Evaluate the Options and Select Your Strategy 

You will ask the group to evaluate the strategic options using your established criteria. During this step, nonprofit leaders often discover ways to merge choices that maximize the benefits and result in a unique and customized strategy. While this step seems complicated from the outside, the best strategy is often apparent after well-executed strategic planning processes. Leaders see it unite around it.

6. Assign the Next Steps 

Before closing the strategy decision session, the leader’s breakout is to draft some initial goals and methods for the strategic planning document. The leaders are assigned teams to support the development of a strategic plan.

Karen’s Six Steps focuses on selecting a strategy. Of course, you’ll incorporate a welcome, introductions, relationship-building opportunities, breaks, and gratitude for the hard work that’s been done and is ahead.

Hazard Warning: The Biggest Nonprofit Strategic Planning Hazard

Failure to solve the key roadblock.

Trash strategic options that fail to solve your challenges--text quote

A client called me to partner with their organization to create a strategy. As is often the case, underfunding was the underlying driver for the process.

As we worked together during the community listening phase of the strategy work, I frequently heard how previous funding efforts failed. While everyone desperately wanted to solve the challenge, they were more fond of obsessing about what didn’t work instead of brainstorming solutions.

Over time, by directing their conversations, the leaders understood that they had successfully discovered hundreds of ways that didn’t work–like Edison and the light bulb. Since they were determined to succeed, we built on these lessons. Using techniques I pioneered, we generated new strategic options. These approaches, the addition of a solving mindset, and work changed their organization’s revenue trajectory and increased revenue threefold in less than five years.

You’ve succeeded if you leave your strategy selection session with a clear direction to solve your critical roadblock. If not, you created a strategy to collect dust bunnies and breed cynicism among your supporters about future strategy efforts. 

Trash strategic options that fail to solve your challenges and that you believe won’t work. Better yet, run your proposed strategy through the following three tests before you leave your strategy decision session.

1) Will we win with this strategy?

Your strategy outlines how you will achieve your goals, stand out from your competitors, and gain financial independence.

2) Is it succinct?

The strategy you create will have many nuances. Still, to make it work for you and your supporters, the essence of your plan needs to be a word, phrase, or, at  the most, a short sentence, such as “make art more accessible to more citizens” or “help people build houses they can buy,” or “negotiate with lenders to reduce medical debt and pay them off.”

3) Is it an earworm, that is, can we imagine using it to make decisions?

Boards, staff, and supporters use dynamic strategies daily to make decisions. The strategy needs to be brief, memorable, and actionable; that is an earworm that sticks with you as you work. Another way to look at this concept is to imagine the strategy’s key focus as part of your nonprofit’s DNA.

For more, watch Not Solving the Nonprofit’s Key Roadblock.

Here are the two approaches I recommend to clients:

Approach 1: Take Some Time to Think about It  

  • Print out the strategy tool collection from the Bridgespan Group.
  • Cross out columns and eliminate pages you don’t need. The leftover is your draft template.
  • Sign up for Cascade Strategy (top reviews, reasonable price—maybe free, reviews “geared for nonprofits”)

Import your strategic plan. To create your documents, you can pick and choose between your Bridgespan templates and Cascade’s offerings.

Approach 2: Get it Done ASAP

Sign up for Cascade and use the Bridgespan Group tools as a backup.

If you want to know more about nonprofit strategy, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to partner with you to create a dynamic approach to help your nonprofit thrive. Schedule a time for a discovery chat here. -Karen

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Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.

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Free Strategic Plan Templates for Nonprofits

By Joe Weller | June 1, 2023

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In this article, you’ll find a collection of the most helpful strategic plan templates for nonprofits in Google Docs and Microsoft Word formats. These templates are customizable and unique. 

On this page, you’ll find a sample strategic plan template for nonprofits that includes a section for measuring your success , step-by-step instructions for creating a nonprofit strategic plan , the benefits of using a strategic plan template , the key differences between a strategic plan and a business plan , and 12 PDF examples of nonprofit strategic plans .

Nonprofit Strategic Plan Template for Microsoft Word  

Nonprofit Strategic Plan Template

Download the Nonprofit Strategic Plan Template for Microsoft Word  

Whether your goal is to increase profits or reach a wider audience, this template gives you the tools for success. Introduce your organization by briefly describing its origin, impact, and focus. Next, fill in the mission statement, vision statement, and core values sections. Collectively, this information builds a foundation for future goal setting. Then you can focus on documenting the direction of your nonprofit by completing the goals section. This section includes space for action steps and metrics that you can use to track progress.

Check out this wide variety of free strategic planning templates to help you meet your strategic goals.

Basic Nonprofit 5-Year Strategic Plan Template  

Basic Nonprofit 5-Year Strategic Plan Template

Download a Basic Nonprofit 5-Year Strategic Plan Template for  Microsoft Word | Google Docs

Use this simple nonprofit strategic plan template to document your organization’s goals over the next five years. This template provides space for all the functional areas of a nonprofit, including finance, marketing, community engagement, and operations. The template is customizable, so you can remove columns if you need to shorten the timeline or add goal categories to better align with your overall strategy.

Strategic Plan Template for Nonprofits for Microsoft Word

Sample Strategic Plan Template for Nonprofits

Download the Sample Strategic Plan Template for Nonprofits for Microsoft Word Download the Blank Strategic Plan Template for Nonprofits for Microsoft Word

This nonprofit strategic plan template helps you clearly define all aspects of your nonprofit, from background and values to development and budget. One version includes sample data that you can use as a guide for your own organization. Complete the SWOT analysis section to gain a better understanding of which areas of your group require attention. You can also use the template to measure your success in order to stay on track. Moreover, you can use this tool to conduct a retrospective concerning your past growth initiatives.

What Is a Nonprofit Strategic Plan?

A nonprofit strategic plan is a well-researched approach for planning and accomplishing goals over a three-to-five-year timeline. An organization uses its mission and vision statements as a foundation for establishing growth targets.

Common targets include reaching new markets, offering new products, or recruiting more volunteers. A nonprofit strategic plan paints a picture of your organization’s potential future and enumerates the steps you need to take to get there. 

In addition to a nonprofit plan, you should use a marketing plan. Check out these free nonprofit marketing plan templates and SMART goals for more information.

How to Create a Nonprofit Strategic Plan Outline

In order to create a successful nonprofit strategic plan, you must identify a set of essential elements in a specific sequence. First, define your organization, then in a series of steps, explain what it will accomplish in the future. 

For more information, check out this comprehensive guide to writing a strategic plan . 

Make sure to address all the elements from the list below in order to develop a successful and streamlined strategic plan. 

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • Accomplishments
  • Mission statement
  • Vision statement
  • Core values
  • Board of directors
  • Why they’re important 
  • Action steps 
  • Success metrics/key performance indicators (KPIs) 
  • Start and end dates
  • Key stakeholders

How to Create a Nonprofit Strategic Plan

Creating a nonprofit strategic plan starts with a desire to grow or improve your organization. Bringing together your key decision makers is the first step toward setting your organization’s future goals. 

Check out this example of a long-term nonprofit strategic plan for more information. You can also learn how to plan for and use strategic frameworks and models to boost your strategy. 

Follow the steps below to create a detailed and effective strategic plan. 

  • Build a Strategic Planning Committee Start by identifying committee members. This is the group of people who evaluate the current position of the organization and make decisions about its growth. Committee members typically include board members, key personnel from different departments, a facilitator (internal or external), and stakeholders. It’s best to keep the committee small and make sure that roles are well defined. 
  • Identify Areas for Development and Growth Determine where you want to focus your strategy. Use strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis to pinpoint the most important thing your organization needs in order to advance. Check out this SWOT analysis template for more information. In addition, ask board members and other key players for their input regarding the future direction of your organization. 
  • Set Goals for 3 to 5 Years from Now Identify the areas in which you want your organization to improve or grow. Example goals include establishing more partnerships, increasing advocacy, and raising more funds. Once you know your goals, you need to develop the action steps to reach them. Include metrics and performance indicators, so you can easily track progress. Include a budget to make sure that the organization doesn’t overspend. 
  • Research Determine the resources you need to accomplish your goals. Execute this step by researching the goal-setting processes of your competitors. In addition, review your organization's past strategic plans. Performing these steps allows you to see how the organization arrived at its current status. 
  • Develop an Action Plan Formulate action steps for each goal. Present your plan to stakeholders and ask them for feedback. Be sure to allot enough time for each action step, so you can reach all of your long-term goals. Check out this additional information about building action plans . 
  • Implement the Plan After you document the plan, put the systems and processes in place. Assign responsibilities and tasks to the appropriate people to ensure accountability. Follow your timeline so that you stay on track. Review your KPIs regularly to guarantee that you’re reaching your short-term targets.

Why You Should Use a Strategic Plan Template

A strategic plan template provides a number of benefits: It offers a transparent, coherent timeline for the planning process; delineates the goals of the plan and any related actions, strategies, and tactics; and facilitates overall success.

Following are the additional benefits of using a strategic plan:

  • Aligns staff members and stakeholders
  • Boosts operational efficiency
  • Helps inform decision making
  • Increases employee satisfaction
  • Manages expectations
  • Provides a reference point for other nonprofits
  • Stimulates collaboration

Nonprofit Strategic Plan vs. Nonprofit Business Plan

A strategic plan is a high-level outline of an organization’s future goals and a description of the specific steps needed to achieve such goals. A business plan focuses on establishing the details of the organization’s operations, production, sales, and marketing. 

The image below provides a quick glance at the differences between a strategic plan and a business plan. Check out this additional information about nonprofit business plans .

12 PDF Examples of Nonprofit Strategic Plans

The wide range of nonprofit strategic plans that are available to the public act as an invaluable resource for startup nonprofit organizations. These plans help new nonprofits understand how to structure and specify their own strategic plans. 

The list below includes 12 categories of nonprofits, each representing a distinct industry and mission. Select a link to view a specific strategic plan and gain insight into how different organizations carry out their missions. 

  • Cultural Nonprofit Strategic Plan: With offices in Washington, D.C.; Suitland, Md.; and New York City, the Smithsonian runs the National Museum of the American Indian. Here is the organization’s current strategic plan: National Museum of the American Indian Strategic Plan 2022-2026 .
  • Domestic Needs Nonprofit Strategic Plan: With the goals of increasing membership, revenue, and diversity, the American Red Cross created this plan: American Red Cross Tiffany Circle Strategic Plan 2020-2023. 
  • Education Nonprofit Strategic Plan: The Foundation for Orange County Public Schools, which focuses on the concept that “investing in our children today strengthens our community tomorrow,” offers this plan: Foundation for Orange County Public Schools Strategic Plan 2020-2025 .
  • Faith-Based Nonprofit Strategic Plan: The Evangelical Alliance shares this plan on its website: Evangelical Alliance Strategic Plan 2021-2024 .
  • Environmental/Animal Nonprofit Strategic Plan: The World Wildlife Fund is the world’s largest conservation organization. Here is its Colombia-specific plan: World Wildlife Fund Colombia Strategic Plan 2020-2025 .
  • Health Nonprofit Strategic Plan: Established in 2011, the Center for Global Health (CGH) is part of the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Here is the CGH’s plan: Center for Global Health Strategic Plan 2021-2025 .
  • Human Services Nonprofit Strategic Plan: With a mission to “improve the lives of people with disabilities or other disadvantages,” Goodwill of Northwest Ohio shares this strategic plan on its website: Goodwill of Northwest Ohio, Inc. Strategic Plan 2016-2019 .
  • International Needs Nonprofit Strategic Plan: Striving for "a world where everyone has a safe and decent place to live," Habitat for Humanity lays out its plan on its website:  Habitat for Humanity Strategic Plan 2021-2024 .
  • Medical Nonprofit Strategic Plan: As Canada’s leading integrated health system, Sinai Health follows this strategic plan: Sinai Health Strategic Plan 2020-2025 .
  • Public Affairs Nonprofit Strategic Plan: The ACLU of Ohio adheres to this plan: ACLU of Ohio Strategic Plan 2021-2024 .
  • Social Justice Nonprofit Strategic Plan: Human Rights Watch “conducts fact-finding investigations of human rights abuses and monitors various countries to ensure they are not in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).” Here is the organization’s plan: Human Rights Watch Strategic Plan 2021-2023 .
  • Youth Nonprofit Strategic Plan: Igniting “the unlimited potential of kids and teens by creating safe, inclusive, and engaging environments,” Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta created this plan: Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta Strategic Plan 2021-2025.

Reach Your Nonprofit’s Goals with Strategic Plan Templates from Smartsheet

Empower your people to go above and beyond with a flexible platform designed to match the needs of your team — and adapt as those needs change. 

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed. 

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time.  Try Smartsheet for free, today.

Smartsheet has goal-setting software that can make your nonprofit’s future goals a reality. We help you manage and track your plan, as well as share it with stakeholders and team members. For additional information about Smartsheet resources for nonprofits, visit /solutions/nonprofit

Discover why over 90% of Fortune 100 companies trust Smartsheet to get work done.

  • Strategic Planning in Nonprofits

by nawa | Jan 13, 2023

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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.

Document Vault

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Agenda for Initial SP Meeting

Alignment and accountability handout, chapter: envision – guide, chapter: evaluate – guide, chapter: execute – guide, chapter: introduction (spin) – guide, continue learning, boards in gear.

Boards in Gear logo, with Washington state behind it, circled by the 5 pieces of the curriculum.

Finance Unlocked for Nonprofits

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Let's Go Legal! The right road to compliance and protection

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How Nonprofits Can Keep Strategy Front and Center

  • Alan Cantor

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A guide to setting a strategy-centric agenda for board meetings.

Nonprofits boards are notoriously bad at strategy, in part because when they meet they tend to focus all of their time and energy on operational details and routine reporting. To do their work effectively, however, boards need to make strategy a priority — all the time. The author, a consultant to nonprofits, lays out several ways that nonprofit boards can and should overhaul their agendas to put strategy front and center.

As a consultant to nonprofit organizations, I often hear board members complain, “We almost never have time in board meetings to talk about strategy. We’re too busy with  board business !”

  • Alan Cantor is founder and principal of Alan Cantor Consulting LLC , which supports nonprofit organizations in the areas of development, governance, and strategy.  

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Under Armour's gloomy FQ4 results prompts company to undertake restructuring plan

U nder Armour ( NYSE: UAA ) shares were deep in negative territory in Thursday’s premarket trading as the company’s failure to manage inventories, disappointing promotional campaigns, and strategic missteps resulted in disappointing results for FQ4, and profit guidance for FY25 that was significantly below Wall Street’s expectations.

The company earned an adjusted profit of $0.11 per share which was three cents above expectations, but down 39% a year ago on a 5% decline in revenue. Wholesale revenue was down 7%, while DTC revenue was flat. By category, apparel sales dropped 1%, accessory sales fell 7%, and footwear revenue was down 11% from a year ago.

With the help of lower freight costs, the company’s gross margin improved 170 basis points to 45%.

By region, North American sales were down 10% while international sales were up 7%, bolstered by strength in Latin America (+20%), followed by EMEA (+10%), and Asia/Pacific (+1%).

In recognition of the challenges facing the company, Under Armour ( UAA ) said it will undertake a restructuring plan that will result in pre-tax charges of approximately $70M to $90M including up to $50M in cash-related charges consisting of employee severance and $40M in non-cash charges. 

“Due to a confluence of factors, including lower wholesale channel demand and inconsistent execution across our business, we are seizing this critical moment to make proactive decisions to build a premium positioning for our brand, which will pressure our top and bottom line in the near term,” CEO Kevin Plank said.

To that end, Under Armour ( UAA ) now expects revenue to decline by low-double digits which includes a 17% decline in North America as the company works to “meaningfully” reset this business after years of heightened promotional activities.

Gross margin is expected to increase 75-100 basis points with fewer promotions and discounts in the DTC business. Adjusted operating income is expected to be between $130M to $150M. Capital expenditures will likely be between $200M and $220M.

Adjusted earnings are estimated to be between $0.18 and $0.21 per share, well below the $0.59 per share street consensus.

The company also announced the board has approved a $500M repurchase plan over the next three years.  

More on Under Armour

  • Under Armour: Higher Prices And E-Commerce Could Benefit The Stock
  • Under Armour Stock: This Selloff Is Not An Opportunity To Buy
  • Under Armour Non-GAAP EPS of $0.11 beats by $0.03, revenue of $1.3B misses by $30M
  • Under Armour Q4 2024 Earnings Preview
  • Seeking Alpha’s Quant Rating on Under Armour

Under Armour's gloomy FQ4 results prompts company to undertake restructuring plan


  1. The Complete Guide to Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations (2023)

    profit strategic plan

  2. The Complete Guide to Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations (2023)

    profit strategic plan

  3. Free Strategic Plan Templates for Nonprofits

    profit strategic plan

  4. The Complete Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning

    profit strategic plan

  5. 9 Free Strategic Planning Templates

    profit strategic plan

  6. Nonprofit Strategic Planning: Guided Roadmap Example

    profit strategic plan


  1. Profit Planning

  2. Strategic Profit Line Trading Plan of the Week 18 (2024)

  3. Strategic Profit Line Trading Plan of the Week 8

  4. Strategic Profit Line Trading Plan of the Week (4) 2024

  5. Strategic Profit Line Trading Plan of the Week (9) 2024

  6. Strategic Profit Line Trading Plan of the Week 20 (2024)


  1. 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.

  2. Nonprofit Strategic Planning: Ultimate Guide + 7 Examples

    1. The Denver Foundation's 2021 Strategic Framework. The Denver Foundation is a community nonprofit foundation committed to strengthening the Metro Denver area. The organization's 2021 strategic framework was written to provide guidance for a decade — a longer period than a typical strategic plan.

  3. A Comprehensive Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Plan

    Free Nonprofit Strategic Plan Template. We have included tips to create the perfect outline as well as the steps to actually devise a strategic plan for your nonprofit. But we understand that having a template handy makes this process much easier on your end. Download our free template to get started now.

  4. Free Nonprofit Strategic Plan with Examples [2024] • Asana

    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. Free strategic plan for nonprofit template.

  5. Nonprofit Strategic Planning: Your Complete Guide

    Your strategic plan does four important things that other plans are simply not designed to do: Provide a 3-5-year vision for your nonprofit, including goals, objectives and benchmarks to evaluate success. Articulate an overarching strategy for the organization as a whole.

  6. Nonprofit Strategic Planning: Key Steps + Top 10 Examples

    9. World Wildlife Fund of Colombia. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Colombia aims to set Colombia on a path to sustainable, low carbon and resilient development. WWF created a strategic plan for 2020-2025 to address their ambitious goals to make the country a better place for people and wildlife.

  7. How Nonprofits and NGOs Can Get Real Value from Strategic Planning

    Strategy is all about getting critical resource decisions right. The strategic planning process is a rare chance for a nonprofit's leaders to step back and look at their organization and its activities as a whole—to understand what success looks like and to allocate time, talent, and dollars to the activities that can help achieve it.

  8. Nonprofit Strategic Planning

    Importance of Nonprofit Strategic Planning. 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 ...

  9. Nonprofit Strategic Planning Essentials for Your Path to Impact

    The nonprofit strategic planning process provides time to reflect on your organizational goals and identify priorities for the next few years. Your strategic plan should guide the direction of the work your nonprofit will undertake, and is a necessary step to set your board, team, and organization up for success. ...

  10. Fundamentals of Nonprofit Strategy

    Fundamentals of Nonprofit Strategy. Welcome to our collection of articles, tools, and templates designed to support your organization in setting its strategic direction. The content below offers insights on strategic planning, intended impact and theory of change, program strategy, scaling, and more. You can also use the links above to jump to ...

  11. The Essential Components of A Nonprofit Strategic Plan [With Template

    A nonprofit strategic plan is a living document, which means it is flexible enough to adapt with the environment and the nonprofit's need for change. This is why having regular team meetings is key—that way, the team can assess whether the strategic plan is on track or adaptations are needed to better meet the goals.

  12. Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations: Templates/Guide

    The most straightforward approach to nonprofit strategic plan development is so-called vision-based or standard nonprofit strategic plan. It includes annual planning (usually for a 3-year or 5-year term). This strategizing method builds off the organization's main goals in times of internal and external stability.

  13. Nonprofit Strategic Plan: A Rundown & How To Create Your Own

    A nonprofit strategic plan is a document that lays out the goals that will get you closer to accomplishing your mission. Think of your strategic plan as a way of transforming your nonprofit's ideals—such as the impact you'd like to have on the community in which you operate—into specific actions your organization can accomplish within a defined period of time.

  14. Nonprofit Strategic Planning 101: Your Guide

    Your nonprofit strategic plan is a customized-designed master plan that lays out how you grow your revenue and supporters and achieve more mission results. A nonprofit strategic plan includes two parts: the strategy and. a document that outlines how you will use your strategy, AKA the strategic plan. Your strategic plan includes objectives, the ...

  15. How Can A Strategic Plan Advance Your Nonprofit?

    2. Always keep the plan visible. It's difficult to ensure that the strategic plan is serving as a navigation tool for your nonprofit if the plan is saved or shelved and is not part of routine ...

  16. Free Strategic Plan Templates for Nonprofits

    Download the Nonprofit Strategic Plan Template for Microsoft Word. Whether your goal is to increase profits or reach a wider audience, this template gives you the tools for success. Introduce your organization by briefly describing its origin, impact, and focus. Next, fill in the mission statement, vision statement, and core values sections.

  17. Strategic Planning in Nonprofits

    Strategic Planning in Nonprofits. 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.

  18. Practical Questions Your Board and Team Might Ask About Strategic Planning

    By: Lindsey Waldron, Preeta Nayak, Teni Lanre-Amos, Bradley Seeman. 1. When is the right time for strategic planning? Strategic planning offers the most value when an organization finds itself engaging in important discussions about how it will achieve impact. These discussions often emerge in a few contexts:

  19. How Nonprofits Can Keep Strategy Front and Center

    Summary. Nonprofits boards are notoriously bad at strategy, in part because when they meet they tend to focus all of their time and energy on operational details and routine reporting. To do their ...

  20. PDF STRATEGIC PLANNING: A Step-by-Step Guide for your Nonprofit Organization

    Every nonprofit should have a strategic plan. However, no one strategic plan is the same. Using your organization's unique identity and specialized resources is the key to effective strategic planning. 2. Emphasize continuous quality improvement (CQI). The journey is more important than the destination; the goal

  21. The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution

    "Real-Time Strategic Planning" is a fluid, organic process that helps nonprofits identify, understand, and act on challenges and opportunities as they arise — today, not in six months when the "new plan" is done. In 2018, The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution Second Edition was released and features a timely new Preface and Introduction ...


    in greater depth in Part 1 of the book The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution. This guide is in-tended for practical use when actually doing the session. Desired Outcomes of the Real-Time Strategic Planning Kick-Off Session When you and your staff participate in the Real-Time Strategic Planning process, you can expect to

  23. Strategic Plan Examples

    Strategic Plan Examples | 50 Nonprofit Plans. Discover the largest repository of nonprofit strategic plan examples on the internet and learn how to create your own.

  24. Under Armour's gloomy FQ4 results prompts company to undertake ...

    The company earned an adjusted profit of $0.11 per share which was three cents above expectations, but down 39% a year ago on a 5% decline in revenue. Wholesale revenue was down 7%, while DTC ...