Is your not-for-profit the same organization it was three years ago? Are your stakeholders the same now as then? What about your community and its support?

It has been said that the only thing certain in life is change, so you likely answered “no” to each of these questions. Change is a key reason why your nonprofit needs to revisit and revise its strategic plan regularly. And you can make your strategic planning process as dynamic as change itself. But it takes focus and commitment.

Ignite the Process

Here are five tips to help you ignite the strategic planning process:

1. Do not wait too long. Three years is about the right length of time between strategic plans for most organizations. The goals and objectives you developed three years ago may still be on target, but it is more likely they are not. 

Almost all not-for-profits have struggled in recent years, particularly in 2020. Generally, funding and individual donations are down, staffs are smaller and leadership changes have been common. Now may be the perfect time to resize your organization’s future and plot the route to get there. Strategic planning might be just the spark your nonprofit needs to revitalize.

2. Leave the routine behind. Because strategic planning is about a mission, a vision, and big-picture goals and objectives, the process works best when people brainstorm in a fresh setting. This requires the strategic planning team to temporarily put aside daily operations. The core of most strategic plans can be formed over two or three days. So have designated staff members take care of what cannot wait. The rest of the work can sit until the employees on the strategic planning team return to their regular duties.

3. Hire an outside facilitator. Your not-for-profit’s executive director will take a lead role during the strategic planning sessions. But the objectivity of an outsider is valuable when working with a planning team of board members, clients, staff, and management. A facilitator can create the sense that all ideas are good ideas and keep the group on track. Team members may be more willing to speak candidly and throw away “the way we’ve always done things” at the urging of an outside professional with no vested interest in the organization. Also, an experienced facilitator will be at ease using methods that stimulate thinking, such as the “scenario approach,” in which strategies are tested against possible external and internal events (for example, “your No. 1 funding source dries up,” or “your executive director retires early”).

4. Do the prep work. You and your staff should put together a collection of documents that tell the story of your not-for-profit, its current situation, and anything strongly related to its purpose, for instance, demographic trend information and the results of a membership, needs survey. You also should have a narrative description of your organization, including its history, values, mission, programs, leadership, staff, and financial status.

Many organizations include a SWOT analysis, a detailed description of the nonprofit’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Some organizations take the process a step further with a PEST analysis, which looks at the political, environmental, social, and technical factors affecting the organization.

5. Make the big decisions. The strategic planning sessions should focus on the big picture as you review your not-for-profit’s mission statement and create a clear and concise vision statement of what your organization will look like at a specific point in the future. Then you will want to discuss and draft goals (not more than two or three), objectives that need to be met to achieve each goal, and strategies for reaching the objectives.

As a follow-up to the sessions, the strategic planning team should form an action plan with a timeline and assigned responsibilities. The action plan will be the implementation boilerplate after the strategic plan is approved by your board of directors.

Keep it Vital

The uniqueness of your organization will dictate the shape, complexity, and, of course, the content of your strategic plan. The challenge after strategic planning is to implement your plan in a timely manner and to review it along the way for major changes.

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