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Create your next nonprofit strategic plan with these 7 steps (free template!)

This seven-step guide to strategic planning for nonprofits will prepare you and your team up for smooth, worthwhile process.

Rachel Ayotte
December 29, 2023
May 19, 2021
Nerd Mr Butter

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Nonprofit strategic planning is one of the most essential tasks you can do for the health and future of your organization. Unfortunately, roughly half of nonprofits report not having a strategic plan in place or even knowing if one exists—it’s one of the biggest reasons nonprofits can fail.

In this article, we’ll walk step by step through how to create a strategic plan for a nonprofit, sharing examples from real organizations along the way. Plus, we’ve created a nonprofit strategic plan template to help you get started. 

What is strategic planning for a nonprofit?

A nonprofit strategic plan is a roadmap for the future, aligning all stakeholders on your mission, goals, and priorities for an upcoming period of time—six months, a year, or even several years. 

Similar to a business plan, a strategic plan is meant to be a living, flexible document that articulates how you will live out your vision and values. An effective strategic plan addresses the role of every department, resource, and individual within the organization, and how each will contribute to your goals. 

As everyone who’s worked at a nonprofit knows, countless disruptions occur throughout the year, so strategic planning ensures you set your sights on your most important initiatives, even within a changing environment. 

What are the different kinds of nonprofit strategic plans?

How you develop your strategic plan often depends on the type of nonprofit you have. You may find that one of these models, or even a blend of a few, is best for your unique needs and circumstances:

  • Standard strategic planning ⭐️ A commonly used, comprehensive approach to short-term and long-term goals supported by mission-aligned research. See it in action with the World Wildlife Fund’s robust strategic plan for Columbia, which details several environmental initiatives spanning the course of five years.
  • Issues-based strategic planning 🔎 An option for organizations addressing urgent concerns, this model identifies key problems and develops strategies for resolution and leveraging opportunities.
  • Organic strategic planning 🌱 Agile and adaptable, this methodology is well suited for organizations that operate in dynamic environments, like startups or rapidly growing nonprofits. Planning is viewed as an ongoing, collaborative process. 
  • Real-time strategic planning ⚡️ Fast-paced organizations value this approach, which emphasizes immediacy in decision-making and adjustments based on current information and feedback, minimizing the lag between planning and implementation.
  • Alignment strategic planning 🎯 Ideal for nonprofits seeking to create synergy, this model focuses on ensuring that all aspects of the organization align with its mission and goals. Explore how Feeding the Gulf Coast sought to eradicate hunger with its collaborative alignment strategy centered around mission-centered goals.

7 steps to strategic planning for nonprofits

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for nonprofit strategic planning. Use the following steps as a starting point to tailor the process to work for your organization’s size, areas of work, and values. 

1. Gather all stakeholders together 👯

By expanding initial discussions not just between the executive director and other leadership but across all staff, board members, and core volunteers, you can gain fresh (and often, more accurate) perspectives on what you can accomplish.

Ask everyone to consider the following questions:

  • What worked last year? What didn't work?
  • Did you hit your goals in the previous 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? If so, what were they?

2. Conduct original research 📊

Use interviews, surveys, and past years’ results to gain 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 organizational mission, goals, or a particular program or initiative.
  • Conduct in-depth interviews with major donors and sponsors to understand 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 from the past year they felt were most impactful and what they hope to see more of 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.

Within your nonprofit strategic plan, consider the following:

  • Do your goals support 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 statement?

Check out Save the Children's mission-driven strategic plan centered around their mission to ensure all children survive, learn, and are protected by 2030.

4. Set your objectives 📌

With stakeholder input and your mission front of mind, gather with your team to establish the most important goals and objectives for your programming, advocacy, and fundraising priorities. 

Having trouble getting the ball rolling? Try these questions:

  • What are your strategic priorities? If you can only accomplish 1-3 goals, which would they be?
  • What do you want to accomplish with the funds raised (or did you simply select an arbitrary number)?
  • What is your vision for this organization 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 🗺

A project timeline should accompany each SMART goal set in the previous step, breaking down the following:

  • What is the time frame allocated to accomplishing this goal? What 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. Select your tools 🛠

Your team may benefit from a project management system to delegate tasks, a CRM to keep track of donors, and a giving platform to raise funds and increase donor retention.

When considering which resources you need, answer the following:

  • What nonprofit software do you currently use for project management, communication, donor management, and accounting? Do these systems fully support your organization’s needs?
  • Does your staff have the tools they need to do their jobs?
  • What tools, platforms, or apps would have helped you accomplish last year's goals?
  • What is your budget for new tools and technology?

7. Get buy-in from your team 💪

Lastly, present your strategic plan to your stakeholders, ensuring that everyone understands and is on board with your mission, objectives, and budget.

As you present your strategic plan, remember to return to the following points:

  • Does every objective align with your mission?
  • Does each project plan offer enough time, resources, and people to be successful?
  • Does your team have the right tools to accomplish your objectives?

Get a free strategic plan template for nonprofits

Ready to put these ideas into action? Download this free nonprofit strategic plan template to kickstart the process.

Let Givebutter help you accomplish your strategic priorities

Strategic planning for nonprofit organizations takes on all shapes and forms—what’s important is that you do it. And with the right intentions and tools, you’ll create a plan that sets your organization up for success for years to come. 

Givebutter offers a full suite of tools for fundraising, marketing, and donor management to help you reach your fundraising goals and streamline your supporter engagement. Launch fundraising campaigns, optimize your donation forms, plan events and auctions, and stay in touch with email and text messages from one convenient place. The best part? It’s all free. 

Ready to see how Givebutter can make your nonprofit fundraising smoother? Sign up for your free account and get started today! 

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