Where do you see your nonprofit in the next year? Developing a strategic plan determines which direction you want your organization to take, then maps a route to get there.
A strategic plan doesn't just set your fundraising goals for the year. It articulates your mission and values, then puts a plan in place to hit your targets across fundraising, advocacy, and education. Unfortunately, roughly one-third of nonprofits report not having a strategic plan in place (or even knowing if one exists).
Below, we offer a step-by-step tutorial on how to write a strategic plan for a nonprofit. We explain which areas your plan should cover, which of your people to include, and how to put the plan in place.
What is strategic planning for a nonprofit?
A strategic plan is a living document that outlines your goals for the year. The document is divided into different sections, including the research, people, marketing, and technology required to hit your objectives.
The strategic planning process always begins with a revisit to your organization's mission statement and values.
By returning to your core cause, you prevent "mission creep" from year over year. In other words, it realigns your priorities with the reason your organization exists.
Similar to a business plan, a strategic plan is meant to be a living, flexible document. As every nonprofit knows, there are countless disruptions throughout the year — not limited to budget restraints, natural disasters, and global pandemics. You know changes happen. Your strategic plan ensures you set your sights on your most important initiatives, even within a changing environment.
7 steps for strategic planning for nonprofits
A good strategic plan is an all-encompassing document. It addresses every department, resource, and individual within the nonprofit organization, and how they'll contribute to your year-end goals.
1. Gather all stakeholders together 👯
Many organizations make the mistake of only involving board members and chief executives in the strategic planning process. By expanding initial discussions across all staff and volunteers, you gain fresh (and often, more accurate) perspectives on what you can accomplish in one year.
Gather your team and consider the following questions:
- What worked last year? What didn't work?
- Did you hit your goals last year? Why or why not?
- If you could accomplish just 1-2 initiatives over the next year, what would they be?
- Did a lack of additional resources prevent you from hitting previous targets? What were they?
2. Conduct original research 📊
Nonprofit strategic planning involves taking a hard look at what works — and what doesn't — within your organization.
For a fair assessment, always back up your claims with facts and metrics.
Interviews, surveys, and past year results offer insights into gaps and opportunities for the upcoming year. Try the following exercises:
- Create a SWOT analysis, outlining the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats to your organization.
- Conduct in-depth interviews with major donors and sponsors. This will help you gain insight into how your organization is perceived by the community. Interview staff members and volunteers to determine how you can better allocate resources.
- Send a survey to your supporter base, asking which events, educational resources, or campaigns they enjoyed last year and what they want to see in the future.
3. Revisit your vision, mission, and values 💯
Nonprofit leaders should revisit their vision statement, mission, and values at least once a year (if not once a quarter). This ensures every goal you set and project you take on aligns with your cause.
Sometimes, your mission, vision, and values need to change. If research (in step two) shows your mission isn't clearly defined, your vision isn't realistic, or your values aren't clear, it's time for an edit. Within your nonprofit strategic plan, consider the following:
- Do your goals align with your vision? Why or why not?
- Does your community clearly understand your mission? What about your staff?
- Are you taking on projects that don't align with your mission?
4. Set your objectives 📌
Your strategic goals should encompass programming, advocacy, and fundraising.
As an exercise, list these three buckets on a whiteboard. Have your team list everything they wish to accomplish within each category (there are no bad ideas!). After 30 minutes to an hour of brainstorming, have everyone vote on their top two priorities within each category.
Having trouble getting the ball rolling? Try these questions to start your brainstorming session:
- What are your strategic priorities? If you can only accomplish 1-3 goals, what would you do?
- What do you want to accomplish with the funds raised (or did you simply select an arbitrary number)?
- What are your goals 3, 5, or 10 years from now? Do your year-end goals align with future ambitions?
- Are your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound)?
5. Create a roadmap toward your objectives 🗺
You have 12 months to accomplish the goals set in step four. Work backwards from each goal, setting deadlines, delegating tasks, and assigning milestones.
Hopefully, your human resources department or manager can assign a project manager for this step in the process. A project timeline should accompany each goal, breaking down the following:
- What is the time frame allocated to accomplishing this goal? Which milestones can be set in place to ensure you stay on track?
- Which staff member will act as a facilitator on this project? Who will answer to them?
- What are the deliverables (or subtasks) for this project? What are the deadlines for each?
6. Pick tools to accomplish all of the above 🛠
You have your purpose, goals, and people in place. Now, determine what else you need to hit your targets.
In the short-term, your team may need a project management system to delegate tasks, a CRM system to keep track of donors, and a giving platform to raise funds and increase donor retention.
Your nonprofit strategic plan should include a budget for all tools and technology needed.
When considering which resources you need, consider the following:
- Does your staff have the tools they need to do their jobs?
- What technology do you currently use for project management, communication, CRM, and accounting? Do these systems do what you need them to?
- What new tools, platforms, or apps would have helped you accomplish last year's goals?
7. Get buy-in from your team 💪
Lastly, present your strategic plan to your executive director, board of directors, and funders. Ensure each person is aligned with your mission, objectives, and budget.
As you present your strategic plan in an executive or board meeting, remember to return to the following points:
- Does each objective align with your mission?
- Does each project plan offer enough time, resources, and people to accomplish your objectives?
- Does your team have the right tools to accomplish your objectives?
Givebutter can help you accomplish your strategic priorities
A strategic plan is an essential document within the nonprofit sector. A strategic plan is the roadmap for the upcoming year, aligning all stakeholders on your priorities, mission, and objectives.
Givebutter can help you raise funds to accomplish your year-end goals. With 70+ features at your fingertips, it offers the tools your team needs to hit your fundraising targets and amplify your message. Plus, with the lowest platform fees in the industry, Givebutter helps you keep more of the money you raise.
Ready to launch your next campaign? Sign up for your free account to start fundraising today.
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.