Strategic Planning for Nonprofits
planning is the means of envisioning your organization's future and determining
how to get there. It is different than traditional planning because it
emphasizes the process in addition to the end product and includes your
vision, creativity, values and organizational culture. Zimmerman Lehman
recommends that organizations utilize strategic planning, but not every
organization needs or would benefit from an involved process. Some will
spend months developing a plan; others will take a day or less. The following
describes both the benefits of, and procedures for, this type of planning.
planning is a tool for changing your mode of functioning from "reactive
to active." You anticipate, plan and create the future. It stimulates
creative thinking about the future. An important benefit of the process
is team building that is nurtured by an inclusive process. Strategic planning
ingenuity and new approaches
everyone's investment in the organization
a common vision
values and beliefs
opportunities and obstacles
a framework for day to day decisions
a marketing and fundraising piece
you a road map to follow. The plan is an excellent public relations piece
for funders as well as a blueprint for your organization's growth.
beginning to plan check to see if there is a commitment to plan. Sometimes
a dynamic leader sets the tone and does all the visioning. At other times,
the culture is too divisive for good planning and it would be a waste
of everyone's time. If the commitment of the board and staff to the process
is lacking it can be costly and unproductive. Strategic planning is not
right for every organization; the timing and procedures should be adjusted
to fit your organization's level of dedication to the process, the resources
it has to devote to the process, and its culture.
If the appraisal
is positive you begin by developing a committee of interested and committed
individuals. This group of stakeholders (strategic planning language for
interested and key individuals), made up of representatives of staff,
board members and interested volunteers, works together, often with the
help of a consultant, to plan the process, assign tasks and give feedback.
an appraisal of your clientele, the community served, members, customers,
staff and board to identify critical issues and opportunities concerning
the future of the organization.
are your strengths and weaknesses? (E.g. Strengths: the longevity of
the staff, the stability of the funding base. Weakness: the lack of
- What are
the critical issues for the future? (E.g. changing technology options,
loss of key staff, purchasing a building, going national, etc.)
- What opportunities
face the organization? (E.g. recent publicity gives us wide exposure
for the first time, increasing student population, taking greater advantage
of the web, funding issues, etc.)
- What threats
exist? (E.g. government cutbacks threaten one of our programs, will
technology make us obsolete? Competition for other similar groups, etc.)
- What do
clients/members need from the organization? (E.g. more or different
services, culturally appropriate programs, etc.)
and projected population demographics or other factors in relevant geographic
areas in an effort to predict trends in demand for your programs and services
in the coming years. (E.g. will we need to speak different languages for
a growing immigrant population? Does an aging student base need different
career choices? Will new diseases affect the health services that we should
What is your
organizational structure? Who are you? What do you do? Collect critical
documents for review and summary (e.g. brochures about organization, current
statistics regarding breakdown of members/clients/students/budget, job
descriptions, articles of incorporation, by-laws, board minutes, annual
assessment materials can be organized in an accessible manner to help
with the planning process. Some organizations prefer to review all the
material prior to planning a mission or vision for the future, while others
like to use the material to identify gaps in services or programs to help
inform the future vision. It is an important tool for both!
clear sense of mission and direction inspires staff, board and volunteers,
and encourages teamwork. It defines for the outside world who, how and
what the organization is. Your mission statement should clearly state
who your clients/members/students are, the services or products that you
offer, and the means by which these services are provided. The mission
of the organization is the reason for its existence and it should answer
- What need
do you fill? What niche do you occupy? What problem are you attempting
do you serve? Who are your clients/members/students/population base?
are your geographic boundaries?
- How do
you service your clients/members/students/population base?
- How do
you solve the problem? Through what methods and programs?
for Youth's mission is to reduce teen pregnancy throughout ABC County
by educating youth in prevention and by building self-esteem in young
women and men through peer counseling programs.
of the mission statement is two fold: to articulate your goals for all
to see, and to determine whether new program ideas fall within the scope
of your organization. If the Advocates for Youth's executive director
were to approach her board of directors with plans to initiate a program
to protect the health of infants, this would fly in the face of the mission
statement, since serving new infants is not part of the mission. The board
of directors could then do one of two things: either reject the new program
because it does not fit within the mission statement, or make the decision
to broaden the mission to include this new service. Obviously, changing
the mission should not be done solely-or even primarily-to satisfy a funder.
important part of strategic planning is envisioning the future of your
organization -- What can you be? The vision constitutes a future image
of the organization as efficient and effective and includes a picture
of how the world (your client, environment, population served) would be
changed if your purpose were accomplished. Many individuals have a difficult
time brainstorming success or even thinking about what you could do if
money were not a problem. They get stuck in the "that's impossible -why
waste our time" mode of thinking. Zimmerman Lehman believes people need
to dream and brainstorm the best possible scenario as a means to stimulate
creativity. It is necessary to do this in an atmosphere in which no idea
is ridiculed or dismissed. There is always time for reality checking,
but not before everyone has been given a chance to visualize the best.
This is where the excitement and buy-in can occur.
strategy is a broad method or approach to be taken to accomplish a particular
purpose. How can you best carry out your mission and implement your vision?
What are the means that will get you to where you want to be? Creative
and innovative thinking are vitally important.
might be to focus on prevention services for your clients or create a
particular education or service program that serves your population's
needs (identified as an unmet need in the assessment area). Another might
be to develop an individual donor base to help increase resources or create
a technology-based education program. Still another strategy might be
to utilize litigation or a media campaign to influence public opinion.
Often there are competing strategies or too many strategies to tackle
all at once. This is where your needs assessment comes in. You apply what
is known as a S.W.O.T. analysis. This looks at the organization's strengths
(S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O), and threats (T) to decide which
strategy is wisest for your organization.
setting focuses on defining organizational aims/purposes for the next
three to five years, and objectives set a quantifiable standard for each.
Goal setting helps by setting a specific time to complete each objective.
Identify realistic goals and measurable objectives that utilize the best
strategies for creating your vision of the future. Each goal and objective
can be prioritized as part of the planning process. This makes the evaluation
process much easier. Depending on time and resources, organizations can
choose a few areas to work with set goals and objectives.
- Goal --
to educate young people about prevention of pregnancy. Objective --
we will serve 500 young women and men in our peer counseling program
increase our client/student/member population. Objective-- we will increase
the families we serve by 5%, expand our student population by 10%, and
increase our new donor base by 20%, all within three years.
to educate our volunteers. Objective -- we will provide 15 trainings
a year. Action planning. What are the steps we need to take to accomplish
process should include a pragmatic action piece that outlines major activities
and tasks: with who, what, and when.
Increase youth membership.
Increase youth membership by 5% a year
Complete youth recruitment brochure
By May, 200x
If time permits,
a useful step is contingency planning to overcome potential obstacles.
What programs do we cut if our funding is reduced? How will we work around
the restrictions if the guidelines are changed? What if we don't get the
building? What is our fall-back position if the initiative fails? How
do we deal with a public relations disaster?
can life be given to the vision? Draft a document that will be a useful
internal tool and also an excellent representation of the organization's
vision, mission, values and goals. The public plan can include highlights
from your needs assessment. The organizational plan should include the
pragmatic action plan and a financial projection and budget.
realistic plan is the basis for fundraising: savvy donors and funders
will want to know prior to making a donation that you have a plan of action
for the future. This level of planning makes it easy for donors or funders
to see what you want to accomplish and also that you have the means to
do it, and that all that is lacking is the funding
crucially important last step is to plan for evaluation. A regular review
at board or staff meetings is helpful to review:
- Are we
meeting our goals?
- Are things
- Do we
need to make changes?
- Was our
things changed unexpectedly?
- Do we
need to implement alternative plans?
some organizations can grow or survive without strategic planning, most
would benefit from a process that creatively envisions your future, creates
the roadmap for getting there, and builds buy-in along the way. Planning
is a critical need that takes time and resources but if done intelligently
will go a long way toward guaranteeing your organization's success.
2007 Zimmerman Lehman.
is the property of Zimmerman
Lehman. If you would like to reprint this information,
please see our reprint
and copyright policy.