Does your board of directors and staff have a clear picture of where your
organization is, where it should be going, and how to get there? Strategic
Planning is a process that helps to answer these questions. And in today's
unstable, ever-changing environment, strategic planning is a MUST for
The purpose of
strategic planning is to develop a three to five year blueprint for the
organization’s future. Strategic planning is a way to help a nonprofit be more
effective by helping guide the allocation of resources in order to carry out its
mission and achieve hoped -for impact.
We utilize an issues based approach to strategic planning that proceeds
through the following steps:
- Gathering Information – Strengths and weaknesses of the
organization; needs and service expectations of markets and constituent
groups; external changes and trends that will have an impact on the
organization in the future.
- Determining the most critical issues, choices, and challenges
facing the organization over the next 5 years.
- Affirming the mission or fundamental purpose of the organization
- "Why do we exist?"
- Developing a shared vision for the organization’s future - "If we
could create the organization of our dreams and have the impact we most
desire, what would this look like in 5 years?"
- Developing Goals and Strategies - goals - the major results we
want to achieve over the next 3-5 years and strategies -- how we will
achieve those goals.
- Formulating Objectives - the description of projects and
activities carried out on an annual basis to implement selected strategies
-- thereby achieving the goals.
I find it helpful to think of strategic planning as a journey. Imagine an
organization as a sailboat at sea, at the mercy of ever-changing conditions,
ocean currents and winds. Now think of planning as a journey through
sometimes-rough waters to a destination we have determined. Strategic Planning
is how we determine the destination and how we get there. If planning is a
journey, the first two steps of the process - information gathering and analysis
and identifying strategic issues tell us where we are. The next step -
Developing a Vision - helps us determine the destination. And Mission - reminds
us why we're on the journey in the first place. We get to the vision through the
accomplishment of goals. We accomplish our goals by means of the strategies we
devise for each goal. Finally, we translate goals and strategies into concrete
action through development of objectives.
Strategic planning in nonprofits is most effective when the following
elements are present:
- First, establishment of a strategic planning committee to guide the
- Second, there needs to be a thorough and shared understanding of
strategic planning as well as agreement on outcomes of the planning
- There needs to be real commitment to the process on the part of
leadership to engage in planning.
- There also needs to be involvement of individuals representing all
constituencies of the nonprofit: staff, constituents, funders and donors, as
well as other key community supporters.
I work closely with a strategic planning committee composed of board and
staff leadership and accountable to the Board of Directors. I view my role as
facilitating and supporting the work of the planning committee. I’m not the
decision maker. It is not my role to write the strategic plan “for” an
organization, but rather "with" the organization's leaders. I encourage clients
to expand their strategic planning committees to include some carefully selected
“outsiders”. These are individuals who know the organization and the communities
served, are not on the board or staff and are able to bring fresh perspectives
to the planning process. During the data gathering and analysis phase, I
encourage clients to look in unfamiliar places for new information and insights.
These discoveries set the stage for creativity and innovation and help to assure
that the strategic planning process is, in fact, “strategic” in nature.
For more detail about the
process, go to:
Strategic Planning Summary
For additional detail, go to: