Strategic Planning for Nonprofits

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A strategic planning process identifies strategies so that a nonprofit will achieve its mission. Ideally, as staff and board engage in the process, they become committed to measurable goals, approve priorities for implementation, and also commit to revisiting the organization’s strategies on an ongoing basis as the organization's internal and external environments change. Many nonprofits start the process by identifying the nonprofit’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, in what is commonly called a “SWOT” analysis.

Recently much has been written about the need to keep strategic plans relevant: don’t let the plan gather dust on the shelf. If no one refers to the plan after it is competed, then it’s hardly serving as a “strategic” guide! It’s more advisable to revisit the plan periodically, making adjustments, adapting the plan – and the nonprofit’s strategic priorities - as circumstances change. Some argue for throwing out the “plan” completely or reducing it to a very short, concise document, easily digestible by staff and board, but maintaining the all-important process of strategic thinking through periodic discussions with board and staff. Articulating and perhaps visualizing an organization's "theory of change" is another way to think about "what success will look like" and how to get there. There are lots of resources for nonprofits engaged in strategic planning and developing a theory of change. We've selected just a few for you below. Your state association of nonprofits may also offer educational programs and workshops throughout the year to assist nonprofits with proactive planning.

Practice Pointers

A good way to keep your nonprofit’s board engaged is to tie the nonprofit's strategic initiatives to the agenda for board meetings, and to include a short discussion about some part of the nonprofit’s strategic directions in every board meeting agenda. Questions to ask include, "Is that strategic initiative still relevant?" "Are the priorities (or tactics) we identified earlier the correct ones for the near future?"

Tools

Resources

For information and assistance with strategic planning, contact your state association of nonprofits.

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