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How to write a nonprofit business plan in 6 steps (free template!)

Establish a strong foundation, create clear goals, and support your nonprofit’s success by building on this nonprofit business plan template.

Kylie Davis
December 31, 2023
November 3, 2021
Nerd Mr Butter

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Whether you are a startup nonprofit or an established organization, this template will provide you with the structure and guidance needed to create a robust business plan. From defining your organizational structure to outlining your programs and services, from developing a marketing plan to managing your finances, every aspect of your nonprofit's operations will be covered.

Don't let a lack of planning hinder your organization's growth and impact. With this nonprofit business plan guide (and free template!), you can lay the groundwork for success and ensure the sustainability of your meaningful work.

Keep reading to learn how to establish a solid foundation, set clear goals, and navigate the necessary steps to achieve your mission.

Why all nonprofits need a business plan

The nonprofit sector is on the rise. There are currently more than 1.7 million nonprofit organizations in the United States—and growing at a steady rate of 1.4% a year over the last couple of decades. Unfortunately, many of these organizations won't make it to the five- or 10-year mark, largely due to a lack of planning.

According to Forbes, roughly half of nonprofits do not have a business plan in place. On top of that, the vast majority (77%) do not have a leadership transition plan. With no strategy for growth, a nonprofit can quickly run itself ragged rather than placing one foot in front of another toward a common goal.

A carefully developed business plan, on the other hand, can help ensure the survival of your organization, allowing you to continue your meaningful work.

How to write a nonprofit business plan: 6 must-have sections

A business plan is a key part of the nonprofit strategic planning process and isn't meant to be a static document. Instead, your business plan should evolve with you as an organization, no matter your nonprofit business model. As your priorities, goals, and expectations change, so should your business plan.

Therefore, as you write each of the sections below, remember to revisit them every six months, ensuring each component stays up to date for your organization. Keep reading to learn how to make a business plan for your nonprofit organization to help guide you through the next year. You can even download a free template at the end!

1. Executive summary 💼

The executive summary introduces your mission statement as an organization. In a few short paragraphs, explain the problem you are trying to solve within your community and how you expect to solve it.

If you were a for-profit organization, you would use this section of your business plan to explain your product and the statistics to ensure this was a lucrative venture. Instead, as a nonprofit, you are trying to explain why readers should care about a given problem and why solving it would change your community for the better.

2. Organizational structure 👔

Even if you are a startup nonprofit with a staff of under five people, it's important to include this section. Your organizational structure doesn't just include your staff roster or hierarchy of different roles. Instead, it outlines your business model or the type of nonprofit you are

For example, if you are a religious organization, you're registered as a 501(c)(3), while a local association would be registered as a 501(c)(4) with the IRS.

Additionally, this section outlines the number of people you need to get the job done and the roles they play, including:

  • Regular staff
  • Board members
  • Management team
  • Volunteers
  • Other stakeholders 

As a nonprofit with a strapped budget, you may rely on a robust group of volunteers rather than a built-out staff—and that's OK! Creating a vision of the number of people you need will make it easier to hire staff and recruit volunteers for different events and campaigns later on.

Finally, include a short list of different full-time roles you would like to bring on board within the next year, as this will directly impact your budget.

3. Programs and services 📦

If your executive summary is the "why" behind your organization, think of your programs and services section as the "how." How will you fulfill your mission as an organization?

Your programs and services section isn't meant to be generic. Instead, you need to write a specific list of the exact products, programs, and services your nonprofit offers, followed by a description.

For example, if you deliver hot meals to unhoused people in your area, include the following:

  • When meals are distributed: Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays between 11 am–1 pm.
  • Where and how large your service area is: Farragut Square, Logan Circle, and Franklin Park in Washington, D.C.
  • How you distribute your meals: Meals are prepared in a catering kitchen in Northwest D.C., packaged in disposable containers, and distributed with three catering vans and a volunteer staff of 12 people.
  • Which partnerships are necessary to make your services possible: Local grocers donate food, cutting costs by 40%.

4. Marketing plan 📊

Every organization needs to put a nonprofit marketing plan in place. With the right outreach strategy, you can grow your pool of major donors and target them for upcoming campaigns, events, or Giving Tuesday.

Your marketing plan can easily be divided into the following sections:

  1. Audience research 🔎 Who is your target audience? Where will the bulk of your donations come from? Put together stats and figures from similar organizations to help identify who is most likely to give. If you are more than one year into business, look at past donations and event attendee lists to put together a profile of your key demographic.
  2. Competitive analysis 📣 Even though you are a not-for-profit enterprise, you still have to "compete" against other organizations for your supporters' attention. Create a market analysis of local and national organizations that operate in a similar capacity or serve a similar purpose, then outline why you're different.
  3. Marketing roadmap 🧭 Based on your research provided in the previous sections, explain which channels you will use (social media, email marketing, SEO, paid advertising, etc.), how often you will use them, and why they are the best fit for your audience. 
  4. Goal and objectives 🎯 Write explicit goals ("We hope to create an email list of 5,000 potential donors and a cumulative social following of 2,000 by year-end") and deliverables needed to reach those goals ("We will publish a bimonthly newsletter and publish two social posts on LinkedIn and Instagram each week").

5. Operational plan 💡

Your operational plan outlines the day-to-day necessities your organization needs to get the job done. Like the programs and services section, this section should be nitty-gritty specific and will highly depend on your sector.

For example, returning to the meal delivery example outlined in step #3, your day-to-day operations would include renting equipment, kitchen space, and vehicles; utilities, to cover gas and electric; supplies, including food, meal containers, and office supplies; and people, including fleet management, delivery drivers, kitchen staff, and a marketing team.

6. Financial plan 💸

Your financial plan creates and allocates a budget for your entire organization. This section allocates funds to the various sections listed above, including your marketing budget, staff salaries, and operational budget.

To create an accurate nonprofit budget, you'll first need to do your research. At a minimum, you should provide the following statements:

  • Your profit-and-loss (P&L) statement from the previous year
  • Cash flow statement from the past six months
  • Current financial statements, income statements, and balance sheet from your bank account for the past three months
  • Sales forecast (or your fundraising forecast) for the next year (include a list of fundraising initiatives and events as well as graphs with expected attendance and/or income)

If you are a well-established nonprofit organization with more than five years under your belt, you may want to extend the timeframe for each document (for example, provide the P&L from the past two to three years rather than the past year).

Download a free nonprofit business plan template

A well-crafted business plan can serve as a roadmap for your nonprofit's success. Save time by downloading this free business plan for nonprofits template. Note that this business plan outline serves as a nonprofit business plan example—you should still take time to customize each section to fit your organization's specific needs and goals. 

Get the right tools to launch your nonprofit business plan

Nonprofits that set themselves up for success start with a business plan—which involves identifying the people, programs, outreach plan, and fundraising plan needed to reach their common goal.

Hopefully, this sample nonprofit business plan template helps your staff, executives, and board of directors unite behind a common strategy. Here are other additional resources to get your nonprofit off the ground and running: 

To help spare your budget and arm your team with the tools they need to accomplish your mission, consider the all-in-one Givebutter platform. With Givebutter, you get a top-rated fundraising features, donor engagement tools, and a built-in nonprofit CRM to help understand, track, and ultimately grow your supporter base—all for free.

Ready to see how Givebutter can set your team up for success? Launch your free account to get started.

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