Leadership Can Make or Break a Strategic Plan

by | Oct 21, 2022 | Strategic Planning

Not every nonprofit strategic plan succeeds. In fact, research shows that two-thirds of nonprofits report having failed strategic plans. Much of what divides a successful strategic plan from a failed one boils down to leadership.

Here at Funding for Good, we spend our days helping organizations create strategic plans that are positioned for success. Which is why a headline over at Entrepreneurship caught our eye:

If Your Strategic Plan Is Failing, You Might Want to Look in the Mirror

Talk about getting straight to the point!

As harsh as the headline’s advice may seem, though, it’s worth considering. A strategic plan is a document. But implementing a strategic plan successfully requires true leadership investment.


Strategic Plan Leadership Requires Time and Commitment

As Funding for Good has explored before, one of the top five reasons that we see strategic plans fail is that “leaders commit to drafting a one-time strategic plan versus engaging in ongoing strategic thinking.”

A successful strategic plan requires continual investment—from the Executive Director, Board of Directors, and staff. Ultimately, you’ll also want buy-in from your donors and constituents. That’s a tall order—and nearly impossible if your leadership team isn’t fully committed to seeing your strategic plan through.

We recommend treating strategic planning as a process, not a product.

As a nonprofit leader, you need to commit time to not just creating your written strategic plan, but actively using it to inform decision-making. You’ll also want to review your strategic plan regularly, making updates as needed and continually assessing what works.

All of which takes time. That’s where implementation planning can help.


Invest in Implementation for Your Strategic Plan

Imagine your new strategic plan is hot off the presses. Your board and staff are excited about your refreshed strategic direction. Your organization’s future looks promising.

Amidst all the celebration, don’t forget to take a hard look at your plans for implementation:

  • Does your leadership team understand their individual roles and goals, as well as those of their departments?
  • Is your Board of Directors ready to support ongoing strategic thinking, using your strategic plan as a guidepost?
  • Is each department in your organization clear on how their work may shift and how progress will be evaluated?
  • How often will you be evaluating progress against your strategic plan, and who will be in charge of doing so?

The list could go on. The truth is, your organization will inevitably experience challenges and setbacks in implementing your strategic plan. At these moments, leadership becomes even more critical—and more difficult.

Which is why Funding for Good offers our strategic planning clients the option to also create implementation plans, including at the departmental level. This can give leaders a valuable headstart in successful implementation.


Look Out for Founder’s Syndrome

Finally, many nonprofits face the challenge of founder’s syndrome. This occurs when an individual in a leadership position is “unable to change with the organization to ensure their participation remains relevant and timely.”

As you can imagine, an organization suffering with founder’s syndrome will struggle to implement a strategic plan. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The process of creating and implementing a strategic plan is the perfect opportunity to break unproductive patterns within your organization. To do this, you’ll want to ensure leadership roles and responsibilities are clear for both board and staff. And you’ll want to create organization-wide buy-in.

Which takes us back to treating strategic planning as a process, one that you commit to for the long-haul. But once you have these pieces in place, your nonprofit will be prepared to beat the odds and implement a successful strategic plan.


How to Make Sure Your Strategic Plan Does Not Fail

The Constipated Nonprofit: When Nothing Moves

Ten Steps to Overcome Nonprofit Founder’s Syndrome


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