Skip to main content
Organizational Management

Strategic Planning for Nonprofits

Author: Marlena Moore
May 1, 2024
🕑 11 min read

Many nonprofits underutilize strategic planning. Here’s a common scenario in the nonprofit world: Develop impactful programs, engage donors passionately, solicit sponsorships and make sure operations run smoothly. This chain of events might seem like a solid strategy for nonprofit management, but it misses one crucial element: strategic foresight.

Think about it. How can you ensure that your nonprofit survives and thrives in the long term?

A clear plan can help you effectively communicate your organization’s potential and needs to stakeholders, which is why strategic planning is essential.

Consider this: Strategic planning in nonprofits isn’t just about setting goals but building trust with donors, volunteers and the communities you serve.

A well-crafted strategic plan reduces uncertainty, demonstrates your commitment to your mission and builds confidence in your organization’s direction.

In this guide, we’ll explore how to craft a strategic plan that articulates your vision clearly and convincingly. But first, let’s start with the basics: understanding what strategic planning is and why it is crucial for your nonprofit.

What Is Strategic Planning for Nonprofits?

Strategic planning is a focused effort to define what your nonprofit stands for, what you aim to achieve and how you plan to get there, focusing on long-term success while considering your unique mission, resources and external environment.

This planning helps nonprofits focus their efforts, allocate resources effectively and navigate challenges to fulfill their mission sustainably.

A good strategic plan lays out clear directions and actions, explaining the organization’s goals and how to reach them and measure success. This plan is essential for guiding your nonprofit toward sustainable impact by aligning daily activities with your mission statement.

Why Your Nonprofit Needs a Strategic Plan

The size of your non-profit does not dictate your need for strategic planning. Strategic planning should be the foundation of everything in your organization — from allocating resources to engaging with stakeholders.

Here’s why you should take the strategic plan seriously:

  • Guidance: Like a compass, a strategic plan shows your team the way forward, setting priorities and aligning efforts with organizational goals.
  • Accountability: It sets a framework to evaluate how well your nonprofit is doing and allows for adjustments to stay on course.
  • Communication: It makes it easier to explain to donors, volunteers and the community what your nonprofit aims to do and how it plans to do it.
Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

Types of Nonprofit Strategic Plans

Not all strategic plans are created equal. Different types of strategic plans can be more suitable depending on your nonprofit’s needs, focus and the environment in which it operates.

Here’s a look at five common types of strategic plans used by nonprofits:

1. Standard Strategic Plan

A Standard Strategic Plan is like a roadmap for a nonprofit organization. It lays out where the organization wants to go over the next three to five years and the steps it will take to get there.

Think of the Standard Strategic Plan as the organization’s backbone, keeping everything straight and connected, ensuring everyone is moving in the same direction and making the best use of their resources.

Typically, strategy is fixed for the years in focus because the idea is to provide a stable framework for the nonprofit to grow. If the environment is not predictable or controllable within your power, you might want to consider other types of strategic plans.

2. Issues-Based Strategic Plan

Sometimes, nonprofits face specific, pressing challenges that need targeted strategies. An issues-based strategic plan focuses on addressing these key issues directly.

The first step to an Issue-Based Strategic Plan is asking yourself, “What are the possible issues that will be bad for my organization in the future?” The plan is to devise a clear plan to address these issues you identified and have a means to measure the plan’s effectiveness.

Let’s say a fundraiser is coming up, and your nonprofit website branding is poor; you should have plans to tackle the branding problem before stressing about sending out invites to donors.

Issues-Based Strategic Plans are great for acting quickly on pressing issues; they help nonprofits channel their efforts and resources where they’re most needed.

3. Organic Nonprofit Strategic Plan

An Organic Nonprofit Strategic Plan is about staying flexible and adapting as things change. It’s a less formal, more dynamic approach to planning that evolves with your organization and the world around it.

Are your membership numbers increasing faster than you can handle? Or perhaps you’re considering new membership management software? Keeping a backup list of potential solutions for managing new activities in your community is an example of an organic strategic plan.

This adaptive planning type allows you to respond flexibly as your organization grows and changes. It ensures you can smoothly integrate new members and activities without disrupting your operations. That way, you stay aligned with your mission while being flexible enough to handle whatever comes your way.

4. Real-Time Nonprofit Strategic Plan

A Real-Time Nonprofit Strategic Plan is designed for quick thinking and fast action, making it perfect for environments where things change in the blink of an eye. It enables the nonprofit to remain agile and responsive without the constraints of a fixed plan.

A Real-Time Nonprofit Strategic Plan benefits organizations that deal with frequent changes or crises, like those in emergency relief or fast-evolving tech fields. It keeps your nonprofit responsive and ready to tackle challenges head-on, staying a step ahead in a fast-moving world.

5. Alignment Nonprofit Strategic Plan

The alignment plan ensures all aspects of the organization are geared toward achieving its mission. This involves aligning the nonprofit’s resources, processes and strategies across all departments and activities. It’s particularly effective for larger nonprofits or those undergoing significant changes in structure or focus, ensuring that every part of the organization contributes to the common goal.

An Alignment Nonprofit Strategic Plan ensures that every part of your organization works towards the same goals. It’s like making sure all the oars on your boat are rowing in sync — when everything aligns, you move forward more effectively.

An Alignment Nonprofit Strategic Plan is great for organizations struggling with siloed departments or conflicting priorities. It brings everyone together, focusing all efforts on a shared vision, which can dramatically increase your nonprofit’s impact.

By understanding these different strategic plans, your nonprofit can choose the one that best fits its needs and environment, enhancing its ability to succeed and make a meaningful impact. Still, you need the right info on how to implement the strategic plan of your choice.

Nonprofit Strategic Planning Template

Thinking of a strategic plan to stick with is enough of a headache. This template attempts to break down arriving at a strategic plan of choice into manageable steps.

To draft a strategic plan that ties directly to the needs of your nonprofit organization, you should:

1. Evaluate Your Current Strategies

Start by closely examining what you’re currently doing and what you need. Assess the effectiveness of your existing strategies. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s working?
  • What isn’t working?
  • Why are they working (or not)?

It takes self-reflection and assessment to know where the problem is and where to focus your efforts. Sometimes, the issue isn’t your chosen strategy but how you’ve interpreted it up until now.

2. Check in With Your Team and Board Members

Input from your team and the board is essential. They see perspectives you may gloss over hastily or underestimate because they have certain info you do not from participating in word-of-mouth marketing. To avoid overlooking such issues, actively gather insights from everyone within the organization.

This approach gives you a fuller picture of your nonprofit organization’s challenges. Also, it shows that you are open to new ideas and ensure that everyone is aligned and moving forward together.

3. Establish SMART Goals

Setting clear, measurable and achievable goals is vital for any strategic plan, or you might stay too long in the planning phase and not take action.

Instead, use the SMART framework to outline your goals. All milestones should be:

Specific: What exactly do we want to accomplish?

Measurable: How will we know when it’s accomplished?

Achievable: Is the goal realistically achievable?

Relevant: Does it align with our mission statement?

Time-bound: When will we achieve this goal?

Additionally, when establishing these goals, consider these questions:

4. Research Solutions

Once you have set your goals, research various strategies and tools to help you achieve them. When doing the deep dive, prioritize looking for best practices and consult with experts in the nonprofit niche. Need help figuring out how to start a fundraiser? No problem.

Look in your nonprofit database; read case studies if you do not have the reach or the finances for consultation. Chances are you will find a study that addresses your situation. Take your time with it; this step is about gathering the necessary information to craft effective strategies.

5. Implement Strategies

Now that you have outlined your strategies, it’s time to put them into action. Ensure your milestones and roadmap are in sync. That way, every step you take is calculated and within the scope of the strategy plan, and all the resources allocated during the researching and mapping stages are used efficiently. Especially with a lot of critical factors, like the workforce, involved.

6. Review Results and Share With the Team

Finally, it’s important to review the results of your nonprofit strategic plan regularly. Analyze the results you arrived at against your goals to see what’s working and what isn’t. Share the report with your team, board members and everyone who participated in the earlier survey. Use this information to tweak your strategies and planning process for future cycles.

This template provides a clear path for your nonprofit to follow, helping you craft a strategic plan that addresses your current needs and positions you for future success.

Examples of Nonprofit Strategic Plans to Inspire

Exploring strategic plans from successful nonprofits can provide valuable insights and inspiration. Here are some examples from well-known organizations, each with its unique approach to strategic planning:

Alzheimer’s Association

The Alzheimer’s Association has put together a strategic plan that’s a roadmap for their future efforts. This plan is about improving their game to tackle Alzheimer’s disease more effectively. It covers everything from enhancing care for those affected to pushing the boundaries of research and even ramping up their fundraising goals to support these ambitious initiatives.

Key highlights of the plan are:

  • Enhanced care and support: They’re looking to significantly increase the reach of their programs that help people dealing with Alzheimer’s.
  • Accelerated research: The goal is to boost their investment in research to $110 million by 2025, aiming to make major breakthroughs in how Alzheimer’s is treated and understood.
  • Increased awareness: They’re working to spread the word and reduce the stigma around Alzheimer’s, targeting a massive increase in their public impressions.

The plan is detailed and bold, with a clear vision of making a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia a reality.

For a deeper dive into what they’re planning and how they aim to achieve these goals, definitely check out their full strategic plan. You can find all the specifics and more on their website. It’s a great resource for seeing how a comprehensive strategic plan is laid out and might give you some ideas if you’re thinking about strategic planning for your organization!

World Wildlife Fund

Grace Lee has been part of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Activism and Outreach team since 2015, bringing a fresh perspective from her marketing and communication design background. Her journey highlights the importance of diverse experiences in driving effective environmental activism.

Key Points from Grace’s Work at WWF:

  • Diverse partnerships: WWF collaborates not just with NGOs but also with corporations, students, academics and tech companies. Grace’s role involves engaging these varied groups in conversations about crucial issues like climate change, wildlife trafficking and plastic pollution.
  • Inclusive approaches: Despite common misconceptions, WWF operates as a nonpartisan organization, working across the political spectrum to address environmental challenges. This inclusive approach is essential for tackling conservation issues that have become politicized.
  • Empowering voices: WWF focuses on educating the public about environmental solutions and amplifying voices that are often excluded from these conversations. The goal is to foster a community where everyone can contribute to the solutions and feel part of a greater cause.

Grace emphasizes the power of connection and the role of personal experiences in environmental activism. Her work exemplifies how broad and inclusive engagement can lead to meaningful changes in conservation efforts.

For a deeper look into Grace Lee’s experiences and the innovative strategies she employs at WWF, check out the full article in their Fall 2023 issue. It’s a great read for anyone interested in how diverse backgrounds can enrich activism and help address global environmental challenges.

Susan G. Komen

Susan G. Komen is on a mission to make a huge impact in the fight against breast cancer, especially right here in Greater Chicago. They’re not just about funding research; they’re also deeply involved in providing immediate help to those facing the disease.

Quick Facts about Their Impact:

  • Research funding: Since 1982, Komen has invested over $1.1 billion in life-saving breast cancer research. They’re the top nonprofit doing so!
  • Providing care: Every week, nearly 5,000 people in Illinois turn to Susan G. Komen for help and information.
  • Uniting the community: Their services reach all 102 counties in Illinois, ensuring that support and resources are widespread.
  • Advocacy: Over 4,000 individuals in Illinois are actively advocating for breast cancer rights, thanks to the support from Susan G. Komen.

Their efforts in research, care, community unity and advocacy are making a real difference in the lives of many.

If you’re interested in learning more about their work and how to get involved, or if you need resources, be sure to check out their website for more detailed information and updates. It’s a fantastic resource for anyone directly or indirectly affected by breast cancer and for those who want to help make a difference.

These examples demonstrate how a well-thought-out strategic plan can direct an organization’s efforts and resources toward achieving significant, measurable impacts in their respective fields.

Software to Boost Your Nonprofit’s Strategic Planning

Effective strategic planning for nonprofits often requires the help of robust software solutions that streamline your processes and boost efficiency. Here’s a breakdown of how specific tools can help you manage different aspects of your nonprofit operations:

Donor Engagement Software

Connecting with donors effectively is crucial for any nonprofit. Donor Engagement Software makes it easy to manage your contacts and keep track of all interactions, donations and activities. It simplifies maintaining detailed donor profiles, enhancing personalized communication and increasing donor retention.

Membership Management Software

If your nonprofit relies on memberships, managing these relationships efficiently is key to growing your community. Membership Management Software automates sign-ups, renewals and reminders, saving you time for more strategic tasks. It also provides insights into membership trends to inform your decision-making.

Fundraising Software

Fundraising is often central to a nonprofit’s operations. Fundraising Software integrates online payment processing, making it easy to set up donation pages, handle donations and track fundraising efforts in real-time. This tool ensures your fundraising activities align with your strategic goals, aiding in better planning and execution.

Event Management Software

Events are vital in fundraising, engagement and public awareness. Event Management Software simplifies creating, managing and promoting events. It handles online registration, attendee management and post-event analysis, helping ensure your events are successful and align with your strategic goals.

WildApricot is a great tool that combines everything you need in one place. It makes managing your donor database, event registrations, website and fundraising activities a lot easier. With this all-in-one solution, you can cut down on the hassle of dealing with multiple systems, giving you more time to focus on your nonprofit goals.

Sign up today for a 60-day free trial to see how WildApricot can help transform your organization and bring you closer to achieving your mission.

Start a free trial of WildApricot today. Click here

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!