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How to Prepare for Nonprofit Strategic Planning: 4 Steps

To run a successful nonprofit, your team must continually adapt its approaches, strategies, and activities to improve your results. By creating a strategic plan, you can ensure that your organization has a clear roadmap to follow at all times—whether you’re applying for grants, seeking corporate sponsorships, or planning its next fundraising event. 

If you’re new to nonprofit strategic planning or hoping to improve your process, we’ll discuss four steps to set your plan up for success: 

  1. Determine your strategic plan’s goals and purpose. 

  1. Assess whether your nonprofit is ready for strategic planning. 

  1. Consider hiring a strategic planning consultant. 

  1. Examine your nonprofit’s current state and engagement. 

By taking the time to prepare your team before you jump into strategic planning, you’ll be able to streamline your journey and get the most out of your efforts. 

1. Determine your strategic plan’s goals and purpose. 

There are many reasons for conducting strategic planning. Therefore, it’s important to define exactly why your nonprofit is developing a strategic plan and what you hope to accomplish with it. For example, your leadership and board members might decide that you need to: 

  • Address recent changes within or surrounding your nonprofit. For example, you might be facing board turnover, adjusting to regulatory changes, or reacting to a global event that has amplified the demand for your services within the community. 

  • Identify the most important areas to allocate resources. Your nonprofit only has so much time, energy, and funds to devote to your operations and programs. Strategic planning allows you to pinpoint the most critical areas to direct your resources toward. 

  • Realign team members and prevent mission drift. In your pursuit of funding opportunities, your nonprofit might find itself drifting from its mission and taking on projects, seeking grants, and pursuing sponsorships that don’t closely align with your purpose. A strategic plan can keep your team members focused on what matters most. 

  • Implement a new program or fundraising strategy. If your nonprofit is launching a program to deal with an emerging need in your community or adding a strategy to secure more donations, incorporating it into your strategic plan can establish clarity on your goals and ensure that everyone on your team knows how to contribute. 

  • Boost morale and commitment among staff and other stakeholders. The strategic planning process provides valuable opportunities to engage your staff and other stakeholders. In doing so, you can re-energize their commitment to your nonprofit and keep them invested in your success. 

Typically, nonprofits produce a strategic plan every three to five years. Another common reason for strategic planning is that your organization has reached the end of its last one. This way, you can re-examine your performance and update your strategic directions accordingly. As you continue to solidify your mission, vision, and values, you can hone your grant strategy, strengthen your messaging, and pursue initiatives that amplify your impact. 

By understanding the primary reasons why your nonprofit needs to create a strategic plan, you can ensure that your planning efforts successfully address the main challenges and opportunities you’re hoping to address. 

2. Assess whether your nonprofit is ready for strategic planning. 

Strategic planning is an essential yet intensive endeavor. To make the most of your efforts, assemble your leadership and board members ahead of time to determine whether you’re ready to undergo the process. 

Laridae’s strategic planning for nonprofit organizations guide recommends asking the following questions: 

 Questions to ask to prepare for strategic planning, discussed below.  

  • Do we have a clear and concise goal for this strategic plan? 

  • Why are we creating a strategic plan now? 

  • Is our nonprofit ready for honest, open reflection? 

  • How much of our time and resources can we commit to this process? 

  • Who will lead our strategic planning process? 

  • How will we engage stakeholders? 

  • How will we measure progress toward our strategic planning goals? 

  • What tools, skills, or guidance do we need to make the most of this process? 

Schedule a board meeting to go over these questions and ensure that everyone is on the same page before you proceed. In doing so, you can manage board members’ expectations surrounding strategic planning and make them aware of the responsibilities they’ll have during the process. 

3. Consider hiring a strategic planning consultant. 

Regardless of your strategic planning goals, consider reaching out to a nonprofit consultant before you embark on your journey. Especially if you’re approaching strategic planning for the first time or you’re low on time and resources, these experts can be an invaluable resource during the process. 

For example, a strategic planning consultant can: 

  • Provide an objective view of your operations and strategies. A consultant contributes a fresh set of eyes to your conventions and ways of thinking. They can ask incisive questions to uncover the priorities and changes that require the most focus. For example, while you might receive a considerable number of individual gifts from donors, the consultant might point out a need to diversify your revenue through grants and other means. 

  • Facilitate honest discussions among stakeholders. As a neutral third party, the consultant can encourage more open and authentic feedback from your stakeholders. They bring an added sense of professionalism to your engagement activities that boosts donor trust and gets to the heart of what your community members are concerned about. 

  • Leverage years of expertise and best practices to maximize results. With every strategic plan they support, consultants are continually building upon their expertise and staying up-to-date on current best practices. This means that they know how to overcome common challenges and take the necessary steps to produce a solid, thoughtful plan for your nonprofit. 

  • Ensure accountability and keep your team on track. A consultant can prevent your strategic planning process from stalling or dragging on by establishing clear responsibilities, clarifying expectations, and monitoring progress along the way. 

Due to their experience, a strategic planning consultant can design a tailored approach that fits your nonprofit’s specific resources and goals. Depending on the level of support you need, they can either lead the entire process and draft your nonprofit’s strategic plan for you or coach your leadership team throughout the journey. 

4. Examine your nonprofit’s current state and engagement. 

To produce a well-informed strategic plan, you must first look into your nonprofit’s current state and engagement with the community. This step involves reviewing your financial performance, impact, and relevant trends in the sector to see how your nonprofit is performing overall. Then, it’s time to engage your stakeholders and learn more about their experiences with your organization. 

According to NXUnite’s guide to employee retention, asking for and incorporating employee feedback can provide insight into issues or areas that need attention you might not have known about. 

Through activities like online surveys and town hall meetings, engage stakeholders such as: 

  • Donors 

  • Staff members 

  • Volunteers 

  • Beneficiaries 

  • Board members 

Use the findings your consultant or your team gathers to steer the priorities in your strategic plan. For example, if your nonprofit managers share that they find it challenging to lead supportive, collaborative teams, you might decide to invest in management training and other resources to help them succeed in their roles. 

With an actionable strategic plan at your disposal, you can work purposefully toward your nonprofit’s goals, refine your fundraising strategies, and better connect with your community. Plus, repurposing the language from your strategic plan in grant applications can help you appear more appealing to funders who are looking to support organizations with a clear vision and objectives. Over time, you’ll be able to amplify your impact with each strategic plan you create. 

About the Author

The foundation of Danielle’s professional experience, career, and passion has been rooted in community development. Prior to consulting, she held executive roles with the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster (GPIC) and Peterborough & Kawarthas Economic Development (PKED). While in those roles, she facilitated international partnerships in agricultural and environmental research at Trent University with the aim of driving commercialization and a local innovation economy, as well as managed the business advisory centre (BAC) offering guidance to small businesses. As a result of her work with GPIC, Danielle worked diligently with partners which resulted in $35 million invested in research locally, a number of international partnerships in Japan and across Europe, the beginnings of research centres in biomaterials and small ruminants, and over 100 new jobs. Danielle has an educational background in Mass Communications from Laurentian University and Public Relations from Cambrian College. She recently completed her Chartered Director (C.Dir.) program at McMaster University. Bilingual, Danielle is originally from Timmins.

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