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Strategic Planning for Nonprofits: FAQs

Strategic planning for nonprofits is a process that organizations use to help them grow. An effective strategic plan articulates where your nonprofit is now, where you want to go (and why), and how you’re going to get there.

Why Have a Strategic Plan?

Planning makes good business sense. When you don’t do it, you set yourself up for frustration and even failure. As businessman and consultant Harvey MacKay (b. 1932) said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Business Plan vs. Strategic Plan: What's the Difference?

They're different! 

Business Plan vs. Strategic Plan with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter

A business plan …

  • Is often chosen by entrepreneurs and start ups
  • Provides structure to initially define an organization
  • Is used when you set up an organization, seek funding, or make a presentation to a bank
  • Presents a case
  • Usually covers a time period of no more than 1 year

(Writing a business plan: what you should include)

A strategic plan …

  • Is chosen by existing organizations that want to grow
  • Is used to manage the direction of an organization
  • Provides focus to move the nonprofit from where it is to where it wants to go
  • Prioritizes resources
  • Covers a time period from 1 to 5 years

(Writing a strategic plan: what you should include)

Why Is Strategic Planning for Nonprofits a Process?

Strategic planning is a useful process because it forces your nonprofit to evaluate why you exist, what you do, how you do it, and your results.

A successful planning session clarifies what need your nonprofit meets (your mission and values statements), what you do or don’t do to meet the need (analysis), how you will adjust to meet those needs more effectively (your strategy), and an evaluation plan. (More about these elements.)

Practically speaking, put planning sessions in your calendar. Then when you take the time each year, each half-year, or each quarter to evaluate what you’re doing and how you can do it more effectively, you build on the previous planning session.

Plus, consider the alternative: an ill-defined, vague approach to ministry. Not planning prevents you from accomplishing your goal to fix or alleviate the problem your nonprofit was set up for in the first place.

You never stop. Ministry is about people. People and situations change. So should your plan.

Is It Expensive?

That depends. Some nonprofits hire consultants to walk them through the process. Others use a professional only periodically – at a critical ministry juncture, during a conflict, when they need an objective voice, or during a capital campaign, for instance. Others undertake planning successfully on their own.

The key is to get started. If you find you need outside help, by all means find it. Just get going.

How Often Should I Evaluate and Rewrite?

At least once a year. In addition, create benchmarks along the way in your annual strategic plan (monthly, quarterly, bi-annually) at which you can evaluate your progress.

How Long Is a Strategic Plan?

Your plan should be long as your organization needs it to be to reach your goals. That could be one page or it could be hundreds of pages, depending on the size of your organization and its strategy.

What I Include in My Strategic Plan?

  • Vision, mission, and values
  • Analysis
  • Strategy
  • Evaluation

(More details on the parts of a strategic plan.)


More on Strategic Planning for Nonprofits

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Writing business plan elements: what should you include?

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