Elements of a Nonprofit Strategic Plan

A nonprofit strategic plan is an important tool to use to grow your nonprofit – a map that helps you make decisions for your organization. 

Elements of a nonprofit strategic plan in a word cloud with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter

It answers these 3 key questions:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where are we going?
  • How will we get there?

Putting it together is not an exact science. Your nonprofit will create one tailored to your work. Nevertheless, an effective strategic plan contains certain elements.

Nonprofit Strategic Plan Elements

Element #1: Vision, Mission, and Values

Element #1 answers the question, "Why do you exist?" Initially, vision, mission, and values can require significant work to clarify in your nonprofit strategic plan. Time invested in developing this identity content is well-spent, however, because these elements are the foundation upon which the rest of your planning and execution rests. This first element of a nonprofit strategic plan has 3 parts.

1. Vision statement: What will you do?
Your vision statement explains what drives your organization – the problem that caused the organization’s founders to say “I’ve got to do something about this” in the first place. Vision states what your nonprofit hopes to achieve long-term – in the future – to effect change and provide relief for the problem. The best vision statements are short (less than 10 words) and use inspirational language.

2. Mission statement: What do you do?
Your mission statement describes concisely what your nonprofit does to achieve its mission. It answers the question, “What do you get up each day to do?” with a concrete action. The best mission statements are 10 words or less and include action verbs.

3. Values statement: What guides you as you do it?
Your values statement (also called “core values,” “foundational principles,” or “core principles”) is a list of beliefs that drives your organization's culture and priorities. It clarifies what your nonprofit stands for and believes in.

Element #2: Analysis

Element #2 answers the question, "Where are you now and where are you going?"

Here is where you objectively look at your current activities (programs and departments) to determine their effectiveness in achieving your mission. List them. Use your data to assess them.

Then look at your nonprofit’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). How will these impact what you do as you move forward? Should you change them, eliminate them, add new activities? During analysis, you’ll also articulate what your nonprofit is best at – sometimes called your "Competitive Advantage" or your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). (Read more about identifying and writing your competitive advantage or your Unique Selling Proposition here.)

Element #3: Strategy

Element #3 answers the question, "How will you get there? "
Create a strategy that lists programs, policies, philosophy, and departments – the activities you undertake to fulfill your mission during a 1 to 5 year time period and how you will undertake them. At every step of this part of the process, ask “Does this fulfill our mission? Are we using our USP to get there?” In planning, consider carefully your SWOT analysis so that your strategy is targeted and realistic.

Your strategy list can be broken down further with two important elements.

1. Goals: a list of targets you want to reach as you implement your strategy. Effective goals explain what, when, who, and how. They are specific and measurable.

2. Action steps: a list of tasks you will undertake to reach your goals.

Element #4: Evaluation

Element #4 answers the question, "Did you do what you planned?"
Your plan needs to include performance measures – a tangible means to record data to show your strategy’s successes and opportunities for changes. You’ll use this data during your next strategic planning session.


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