by Marie Palacios

Whether you serve a nonprofit as a development director, executive director, board member, or staff… “strategic planning” has probably come up in your conversations.

If you ask ten individuals this simple the question “What does strategic planning mean to you?” you will likely receive ten different responses. Most will define it as a:

1. Business plan
2. Retreat focused on goal setting
3. Plan for our organization’s future
4. Map defining our organization’s direction.

All these responses capture the ESSENCE of a strategic plan but still don’t clearly outline key ELEMENTS of the planning process or intended results.

If you google the term, you will find lots of excellent descriptions such as “Strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It may also extend to control mechanisms for guiding the implementation of the strategy.”

Just reading that definition might induce a migraine and undue stress! Add that to the fact that strategic planning processes are often described as “time-consuming, confusing, conflictive, and expensive” it’s no wonder so many nonprofits continue to operate without a current strategic plan.

In fact, Forbes magazine reports that a study by the Concord Leadership Group discovered that “roughly half of all of the more than 1,000 respondents reported that their organization either does not have a strategic plan, or if they claim there is one, they admit it is not in writing and that 77%) of nonprofits in the survey lack a leadership transition plan.”

Funding for Good can also confirm that more than 50% of the organization’s that reach out to us for services do not have a written plan. Without a plan, it is nearly impossible to ensure that an organization is sustainable…much less successful.

Our goal today is to break down the process so that your organization can tackle the planning process without burning out your team or your budget.

Funding for Good’s prefers to define a strategic plan as “a roadmap for where an organization is going, how it will get there, and specific ways to determine if you have ‘arrived’ at the destination.”

Consider the following analogy: Your board chair announces that your entire board will be heading to California on July 4th for a retreat.

Sounds simple right?

Everyone knows where you are heading…to California…and when…on July 4th!

Now imagine that some of your board members decide to take a direct flight to Los Angeles, others opt for a scenic road trip by car and end up in San Diego, and the last of your board members jump on a train that deboards in San Francisco.

Although the individuals on your team are each heading in the right direction, there is no way to guarantee that all of them will end up in the EXACT place at the EXACT same time because everyone is using a different vehicle and traveling at different speeds to reach a vague destination in a very large state.
Should flights be delayed, a car ends up with a flat tire, or a train gets sidetracked the entire board risks missing the scheduled retreat. What happens then? Do you reschedule, convene without a quorum, or forget about the event and go your own ways? Since the team isn’t together…ensuring consensus is nearly impossible.

Do you get where this is going?

A common destination and a date are not enough to ensure the organization’s successful future. Your entire team must be traveling in the same direction, at the same speed, using the same tools to reach end goals! Because board members operate on term limits, a written plan is vital to ensuring that new leaders are also informed and empowered in their role. Life will always throw curve balls, so the strategic planning process should include strategies and timelines that are specific yet realistic.

Remember: Strategic planning is an active PROCESS, not just a static PRODUCT!

Whether you opt to complete the process in-house or contract a facilitator, the following tips and tools are designed to help your team get organized and address the key components of strategic planning. Do not be surprised if the process below requires six-months of committed work to complete!

Three Stages of Strategic Planning

1. Organize – Set aside time to plan with your team and listen to your stakeholders. You might need one, two, or even three months to outline key tasks and the secure board and staff buy-in needed to:

a. Develop a planning committee
b. Establish a timeline for the process
c. Determine who should participate in the process
d. Finalize a budget for the process
e. Complete a SWOT analysis of the organization. (SWOT= Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)
f. Gather benchmark data

2. Envision – Before you can establish a direction, the organization must clarify its identity. Set aside time to:

a. Evaluate how the organization sees itself and how it wants the community to perceive the organization
b. Review and modify the vision statement if needed
c. Review and modify the mission statement if needed
d. Consider key dreams and what community partners could and should be involved in your future plans
e. Craft key goals/outcomes

3. Execute – This final stage involves the creation of a written plan as well as the implementation of the approved plan. You might opt to break the goal setting process into smaller chunks or reserving a full day or two to tackle the task. Regardless be sure to consider the following activities and products:

a. Establish SMART goals using benchmark data as a reference point. For more information on goal setting check out our free resources for crafting SMART GOALS here: https://fundingforgood.org/?s=smart+goals
b. Ensure staff is prepared to launch the plan (time, resources, board support)
c. Determine how and when staff will provide progress reports on each of the outlined goals.
d. Outline processes for reviewing and modifying the plan as needed.

A well-crafted strategic plan is the primary roadmap to guide the board and staff in their work to fulfill your mission. It is also the most effective tool in your fundraising tool kit because it ensures your community and donors that the organization is organized and proactively working to achieve long-term goals.

If you are ready to start the strategic planning process, check out Funding for Good’s free checklist to get you started: https://fundingforgood.org/project/pre-strategic-planning-checklist/

For those of you who are already past the planning stage, consider reviewing our free checklist to ensure that your written plan includes key components: https://fundingforgood.org/project/strategic-planning-checklist/