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Ten Tips for a Strategic Planning Process That Works for Nonprofits



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It’s not the destination…it’s the journey. When done right, the strategic planning process for nonprofits builds a more cohesive team, clarifies the organization’s focus and realigns resources with the current priorities. Most important, it provides a framework for decision making throughout the organization. Here are ten steps to ensure that your strategic planning process is practical, productive and responsive to the needs of the community you serve:


Determining Who Should Participate: When the group involved is larger than 15 members, it may be beneficial to form a sub-committee that drives the process. To give the plan credence, the committee should have the highest level members of the organization involved, such as the CEO/President and Board Chairman. Be sure to involve Board members who have an historical perspective, are passionate about the process and will champion the importance of the strategic plan process. You also may want to involve important committee chairs, the entire Board, representatives of the community you serve and key staff members to ensure that a realistic plan with a common goal is developed.


Preparing for the Meeting: Determine the specific purpose of the plan. Are you developing an overall direction for the organization? Or are you focusing on specific issues such as the need for additional sources of funding, modifying services to better meet the needs of the community or growing the number of people you serve?

The meeting will be most effective in a comfortable place free from interruptions and distractions. Often, it’s best to go off-premises. Develop an agenda and hire or appoint someone impartial to facilitate the discussion. Agree upfront that creativity is desirable, so no idea will be judged immediately as impractical or undesirable. (Sometimes such suggestions can spark other extremely positive ideas.) Appoint someone to record the essence of what the group discusses and decides.

3. Assess the Current External and Internal Environment: Prior to the meeting, examine the relevant factors outside the nonprofit’s control that can affect its performance. This analysis should cover external trends such as funding, legal and regulatory requirements, the economy, technology, politics, demographics, availability of volunteers and potential collaborators, as well as a review of the competition. (Yes, nonprofits compete for funding, volunteers, clients, etc.) You also should include an internal analysis of relevant areas such as Board operation, programming, marketing, fundraising and staffing. Formulate assumptions about the future and the impact of these assumptions on your organization.

Focus on Important Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats: Strategic planners use this technique to help organizations assess their external environments and internal capacity. In order to plan for the future, ask yourself these questions:

• Strengths: What advantages does your organization’s services provide? What do you do well?
What do you have that your competitors don’t?
• Weaknesses: Where is there room for improvement? Where does your organization need improvement? How would the community describe your weaknesses? What does the competition have that you don’t?
• Opportunities: What’s happening in the marketplace that you can take advantage of? What new, useful technologies are coming? Are there demographic changes that could increase the number of people who need your services? Could you collaborate with other organizations to deliver your services or share administrative functions to reduce costs?
• Threats: What outside events or competitors are waiting to hit you when you’re not looking? What potentially harmful regulations are on the horizon? Are funding sources drying up?


Define (or Redefine) the Organization’s Mission: An organization's mission statement is its compass. It guides and it inspires. It is a focused statement, usually no more than one or two sentences, that is easily communicated and describes the purpose of the organization to ensure all stakeholders share the same view. Your mission statement should cover:

        • Purpose of the organization
        • Community to be served
        • Needs to be met
        • Methods to meet that need
6. Build Consensus Through a Collaborative Process: Working collaboratively will build strong buy-in from the leadership team. With a clear and consistent vision of where the organization is headed, the organization is more likely to operate in concert to reach its destination, regardless of the situation encountered.
7. Map Out an Action Plan: Organize the nonprofit’s objectives and tactics into key areas to make them easier to process and prioritize, to allocate resources and to coordinate with other departments and functions.

Budget for the Strategic Plan: The strategies and tactics that you choose will affect funding, expenses and staffing requirements to differing degrees. You need to consider the potential impact of the strategic plan on each objective, so you can prioritize them and include them in future budgets.

9. Target Completion Dates: Be realistic in setting target dates. It’s important that you resist the temptation to set extremely ambitious timelines. In most cases, the tactics you’ve agreed on will be accomplished by people who already have a full day's work. Staff member must be given sufficient time to achieve their assigned objectives or the plan will be viewed as impossible to accomplish.
10. Coordinating and Monitoring the Strategic Plan Process: For maximum sustained results, an overall coordinator should be appointed to execute and monitor the progress of the strategic plan. This person should be part of both the strategic planning taskforce and the sub-committee driving the process.
Prepared by:

Geri Stengel, president of Stengel Solutions, a business strategist.  She can be reached at 212-362-3088 or E-mail

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Contact Geri Stengel at
  212.362.3088 or E-mail

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