How to Develop a Strategic Plan for Your Nonprofit

Don’t Leave the Future to Guesswork

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Developing a strategic plan for your nonprofit is one of the most effective ways to achieve your mission. A strategic plan extends your mission into easy-to-track, measurable projects and goals.

Your strategic plan defines where your organization wants to go and outlines how to get there. As factors change along the way, your strategic plan should be consulted or adjusted, making it a valuable guide for your nonprofit’s operations.

To get started, you need to know what to include in your plan. Here are a few tips, as well as an outline to help you develop a functional strategic plan.

What Should You Include in Your Strategic Plan?

Generally, your strategic plan should include the following elements:

  • Your nonprofit’s mission, vision, and values
  • Your nonprofit’s goals and how you will reach them through achieving objectives and activities
  • An assessment of current resources
  • An analysis of your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT)

Each element can be short or long. You may also include sections about financial reports, operating budgets, communication plans, or an executive summary. How do you develop each of these sections?

Develop Your Mission, Vision, and Values

This section of your strategic plan describes why your nonprofit exists, what it does, and what it will strive to achieve.

  • Mission Statement: Your mission statement answers the question “what does our organization do?” Your answer should include the nature of your services or goods as well as your audience. Use simple language. The best nonprofit mission statements tell people why the nonprofit exists, but they do it in an easy to read, compelling way.
  • Vision and Values Statement: Your vision statement answers the question, “What do you hope for your nonprofit and the community it impacts?” It’s similar to a mission statement and supplements it by focusing on the broader impact of your nonprofit. You may include your nonprofit’s values in your vision statement. If your mission statement is the “what” and “how,” your vision statement is the “why.”

    For example, TED (which stands for technology, entertainment, and design) is an excellent example of a compelling mission and vision statement. Its mission is simple; to spread ideas through short, powerful presentations called TED Talks. Its vision expands that idea: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.”

    Identify Goals, Objectives, and Activities

    Once you’ve outlined your nonprofit’s purpose and vision for the future, you’ll identify specific goals that will work towards your mission. For example, if your nonprofit aims to improve communities by providing better homes and housing, identify goals that will support that mission. Goals might be service-specific, such as breaking ground in a new community. On the other hand, your goals might be organization-wide, such as hiring more staff or expanding your marketing team.

    Once you’ve identified your nonprofit’s goals, break them down further by outlining specific objectives and activities. For example, if one of your goals is to build homes for the vulnerable in a new community, an objective might be building a certain number of new homes in a specified period. Activities are even more specific than objectives. In this case, an outline of activities for this objective might include getting local officials on board, gathering resources, and recruiting skilled volunteers.

    Assess Your Resources and Environment

    Look at the resources available to your nonprofit. Resources might include:

    • Internal support: your staff and board members
    • External support: your volunteers and donors
    • Other support: networks, the public, friends, and family
    • Money/income
    • Facilities, equipment, products
    • Training

    This part of your strategic plan doesn’t need to detail your fundraising efforts. Instead, you’ll outline the assets you have in hand that will help you reach your goals.

    Do a SWOT Analysis

    An analysis of your nonprofit’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) can help you decide how to use your resources efficiently. Strengths and weaknesses are internal elements, while opportunities and threats are external forces.

    Strengths and Weaknesses

    Your organization’s strengths might include adequate facilities in convenient locations. Your employees and volunteers are happy, engaged, and passionate. Human resources and physical resources are strengths. On the other hand, you may struggle to find funding sometimes, or investment opportunities are scarce. Financial resources may be your weakness.

    Opportunities and Threats

    External forces outside of your nonprofit will affect it, whether directly connected to your mission or not. These opportunities and threats are beyond your organization’s control. Shifts in the market, economic trends, demographics, and government regulations can influence your nonprofit.

    For example, a threat to a housing nonprofit might be changing zoning regulations. An opportunity may be the climate in a new area that would allow your nonprofit to use solar power or wind power to build new homes.

    Final Details and Review

    Now that you’ve completed the main components of your strategic plan, you can add other sections or appendices as you see fit.

    An executive summary at the beginning of your plan should be a concise description of the information after it. You might include timelines of your objectives, more detailed operating and financial budgets, or how you plan to monitor and evaluate the progress toward your goals.

    After finishing the strategic plan, leave it for at least a day before your final review. You and your team will be able to look at it with fresh eyes. Leave enough time in your review phase for editing, adding additional resources, or clarifying points. Be sure to have a deadline so that review of your draft isn’t overworked or drawn out.

    Once the final review is complete, your plan is finished and ready to execute. Next steps include creating a polished public version for key partners and funders; and sharing it with community and stakeholders, especially those who shared input during planning. By organizing your plan well and attending to the details, your strategic plan can chart your progress and help reach your goals.