7 Considerations Before Starting a Nonprofit Strategic Plan

  1. Is the leadership excited by the potential?Enthusiastic Board
    A nonprofit strategic plan is not something that can be accomplished without the support and excitement of the board and staff. It will take additional time, energy and focus as well as buy-in from the leadership. Without this commitment, the exciting and new nonprofit strategic plan will be one person’s view and will end up sitting on a shelf gathering dust.
  2. Who will participate in the planning? Staff? Board? Would your board have faith in a small planning committee?
    While many strategic plans start the process through a retreat, the final decision-making and fine-tuning will come from a chosen few. If you have a board that discusses every detail of every committee this will be the time to shift away from that type of micro-management. In addition to increasing efficiency, it will stop the few extremely vocal board members from directing the strategic plan.
  3. Who will lead it – in house or consultant?
    The answer depends upon the skillset of your board and staff. Do you have someone who can inspire the participants to consider their dreams, gather the collective thought and help you write up results? Does that person have the time as a volunteer or enough bandwidth to add to their portfolio? Will the board and staff respond better to an external perspective that can help you think beyond the institutional history and into the unknown?
  4. Is your board and staff willing to put in the work
    As mentioned above, it surely will take focus away from other projects. It will also take a lot of work from all involved. From board brainstorming sessions to staff input, from culling data to prioritizing next steps, there will be a lot of extra meetings, phone calls and work on your own. Are you prepared to take that on right now? Can you afford not to?
  5. Do your donors feel that there are changes to be made?
    If not, can you make the case for a change? If things seem like they are copacetic, you will have to explain any major shifts that you propose in your strategic plan. Donors and funders may not realize that expanding the age range that you serve or reducing the areas of focus will strengthen the organization. The upside is that changes that arise from the strategic plan will open up a great opportunity for stewardship and meaningful conversations with donors.
  6. Are you including implementation strategies at each step?
    You want to know more than just what to do, you want a detailed road-map on how to do get to where you want to go if you want to be successful. Implementation tactics are as essential to this working document as the timeline.
  7. Are the board and staff willing to make the necessary changes?
    Change is not easy, especially if someone wanted the nonprofit strategic plan to go in a different direction. Ideally, they will see the reasoning behind the final results, but be prepared for some pushback. Throughout the process you will know who is not in agreement. Do not ignore them and hope they go away, rather determine how to get them to join you or move on.

These are the overarching considerations for your planning process but each nonprofit will uncover their own hurdles. A strategic plan will take a lot of work, but the results will help you implement your vision over the next three to five years. And that is incredibly exciting for any organization.