June 15, 2023
Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

Nonprofit Strategic Planning Guide

What is Nonprofit Strategic Planning?

Strategic planning is the process of identifying strategies that will enable a nonprofit organization to reach its goals and advance its mission. When done effectively, it will clearly outline where your organization is going and the actions needed to get there, as well as provide specific goal measurements to know if it is successful.

During this process, participants will help them dream big, set priorities, focus energy and resources, define common goals, and ultimately agree upon intended outcomes/results


Why is Strategic Planning Important for Nonprofits?

According to research by the Harvard Business Review, 95 percent of a company’s employees don’t understand its strategy.

When each member understands the bigger picture and long-term goals, they are more likely to meet their individual goals and help impact the organization’s overall success. By providing a sense of direction and outlining measurable goals, your team will have the tools and high-level map to serve as their guide throughout the year.


Is it Time for a New Strategic Planning Session?

How can your nonprofit organization know it’s time for a new strategic planning session? Here are a few signs that it may be time:

  • New leadership has joined your organization, whether at the board or executive level.
  • New competitors have arisen in your space, and you need to further define your mission to understand your differentiators.
  • Changes in revenue or expenses, so you can account for planning at lower vs. higher operating budgets.
  • You are stuck in a rut and doing the same events and programs with the same or little growth.
  • There is a lack of momentum where your team has great ideas but has yet to get any off the ground.

A Strategic Planning Session can help re-energize your team and get you back on the same page, working towards the same goals!


Expected Outcomes of Nonprofit Strategic Planning

The conversation during your Strategic Planning Session should shape and guide what your organization is, who it serves, what it does, and why it does it — but with a focus on the future.

The ultimate outcome of your session will be your Strategic Plan. This is a document that will lay out your organization’s goals, the objectives, and actions needed to achieve those goals, as well as how you will fund these initiatives.


How to Prepare for Your Session

First, determine who should be involved. Your strategic planning process will only be as effective as who you invite to participate. Identifying who should be involved may be different for each organization. You don’t want the group to be too small or too large — but just right. A few groups to consider include staff, volunteers, board members, major donors, and/or corporate sponsors. Whoever is involved and engaged in the process, ideally, will 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.


Next, outline the goals of your session. To guide the conversation and set expectations at the start of your session, it is best to outline goals from the beginning. Typically, no matter what the focus of your strategic planning session is, the following goals will be included in your lineup:

  • Determine desired outcomes
  • Assign explicit accountability
  • Establish leading KPIs


Lastly, choose topics for the agenda. Many nonprofits start the process by identifying the nonprofit’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (“SWOT” analysis). Looking at external as well as internal factors (such as your own nonprofit’s staff capacity to accomplish its goals) is important. To then guide the conversation, here are sample topics to help you achieve your goals of the session:

  • Review the current state of the organization
  • Discuss how you got to where you are today.
  • Dream about the future
  • Establish what’s needed to reach your dream future
  • Identify potential obstacles
  • Define resources required


Need Help Hosting Your Session?

Although organizations are more than equipped to host their own sessions, sometimes it can be beneficial to have a third-party expert lead the conversation, prod your group to dive deeper and provide an external opinion. Not to mention – save your team from hours of preparation and follow-up. Strat Labs can help! Contact us today to learn more about our capabilities.

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