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The 4 Essential Parts of a Successful Nonprofit Strategic Plan

Non-profits
John Carothers
Skyler Womack
March 19, 2023
(3 min.)
The 4 Essential Parts of a Successful Nonprofit Strategic Plan

Our last blog Your Nonprofit Needs a Strategic Plan: Here’s Why introduced you to the concept of a strategic plan. To recap a Strategic Plan is a document outlining your holistic nonprofit strategy, in other words, how your organization will move from point A to point B, and what you’ll need to get there. This document is worth the time investment and should be considered a high priority for growth and development. This blog will explore the 4 essential components needed to craft your strategic plan.

Put in the simplest terms, the 4 parts are:

  1. Review
  2. Goals
  3. Timelines
  4. Executing

Step 1: Review

All strategic plans should start with reviewing 2 concepts: mission and vision. By taking your team back to the heartbeat of why it even started, you are rediscovering the fundamental driving force of your organization. Since future growth should serve the development of the mission and vision, reviewing these basic principles sets an anchor point to create your plan. All goals set in Step 2 should be able to clearly link back to this point, so it is helpful to have on hand during brainstorming sessions.

Included in this section should be a review of your internal and external stakeholders, as well as your operational team. Familiarity with the “who’s who” of your nonprofit will help bring a sense of connectedness to your team and creates unified forward momentum.

Side note: Your mission and vision should coincide with the “About Us” page on your website. Your vision and mission statement must be clear for everyone to see. Additionally, you should include a section dedicated to telling your origin story. If you do not have these elements on your current website, we can help out with that. Having this information readily on hand will make the review process smoother.

Step 2: Goals

Having established the why & direction of your nonprofit, it’s time to start setting goals. This can be a challenging step due to the open-endedness of the idea. There can be many ways to get from A to B, and that’s why open collaboration is key. Creating goals is best done in a team setting where all ideas and voices can be shared with equal value. Your non-profit board of directors can help facilitate brainstorming and action planning. You may set up a sharing schedule or create a rule that board members aren’t allowed to comment until the speaker is done sharing. Creating a space where your team feels comfortable and respected can make this process smoother.

For maximum efficiency, it’s best to stick to the SMART system of goal-setting - a useful acronym to keep you focused and productive, standing for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound”. While it is helpful to have open-ended collaboration with others, ideas that are too vague or unrealistic likely won’t be as fruitful to explore. By setting this system in place beforehand, and giving your team some time to brainstorm, collaborative goal-setting will tend to stay more on track.

Step 3: Timelines

The last component of the SMART goal framework, “Time-Bound”, is critical to a successful strategic plan. When discussing concepts like the mission and vision of your organization, it may be easy to fall into equally big-picture goals. While this isn’t necessarily a bad idea to explore, for a practical strategic plan, goals need to be set on a concrete timeline. If your big-picture goals fit within this timeline, great, but if not, you need to strip back layers until you’ve got something that works. This is the beauty of a timeline - like SMART goals, they help you stay on track and trim the excess to achieve something realistic.

They also help you make your growth more measurable. By having specific goals set for realistic dates or periods, you can directly see whether or not your plan is working, and if you need to step back and either reassess your goals or your timeline. As discussed in the previous blog, your strategic plan should be set before moving into the next year of nonprofit, but because there are always obstacles and unforeseen circumstances, your plan can change in real-time to reflect these situations. Keeping a timeline will help anchor your organization through change, so it’s best to emphasize this as a best practice for your team.

Step 4: Executing

Finally, we arrive at the last step of your strategic plan document - executing. This is a multi-faceted step that ties in with the previous ones and essentially functions as the action item of your plan. Executing involves both delegating tasks to specific people or teams, as well as managing the day-to-day operations over time - making sure your organization is adhering to your timeline set in the previous step.

There are many ways to go about this step, but software applications can optimize this process. Asana and Miro are two programs that not only offer project management capabilities but also the opportunity to collaborate in real-time. This will help not only in the accountability step of your plan but in all the previous steps as well. Think of them as mediums or tools you can use to help build out your document.

There are 3 common strategies you can follow to make sure your team is executing throughout the plan implementation:

  1. Communicate - Clearly lay out expectations beforehand and define how you’ll measure success or failure.
  2. Assessment - Assess whether success was met or not, and what the consequences will result from the success or failure.
  3. Follow through - Hold team members accountable to the expectations that were set, per your assessment.

After completing this cycle once, you return to the beginning and complete it again. It’s not a one-and-done process and should be an ongoing practice for maximum accountability. Making open dialogue and regular follow-up with expectations and assessments will help keep forward momentum and can create a steady rhythm of day-to-day productivity.

Don’t miss our next blog - Putting Your Plan Into Action!

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