Of all the items on your to-do list, strategic planning probably ranks low on the list—if it’s there at all. Most nonprofit managers and directors believe they are too busy serving constituents and members, leading teams, and reacting to challenges and demands of the organization to develop a strategic plan.
That’s the key: reactive. Most nonprofits and indeed most companies overall react rather than act with forethought, planning, and insight.
That’s where strategic planning comes into the picture. By creating a strategic plan, you’re taking charge of your nonprofit’s future. While you must still react to changing circumstances and the daily challenges and demands of an active nonprofit, you’ve got an overarching plan in mind to guide the organization through it all.
What Is a Strategic Plan?
Many people confuse strategy with tactics, so it’s essential first to understand what a strategic plan entails. A strategic plan presents a series of coordinated actions and activities that help advance the nonprofit’s mission. After describing the actions and activities, the “how-to” may be added. The “how-to” are the tactics or discrete actions to be taken to achieve the overall strategy.
Think of a strategic plan as a deliberate choice. Rather than react and rely upon your creativity, knowledge, and insight, it helps you to outline a series of intentional and considered steps to advance your organization’s mission.
If your mission is to reduce hunger in your town, your strategic plan may include establishing a pipeline of donations from local restaurants (hot meals) and supermarkets (non-perishable and perishable food) as well as networking with local churches and charities to meet the needs within the community. How you do this may include phone calls to the owners of the restaurants, meeting with corporate representatives of supermarket chains, and local networking. The strategy to reduce hunger will guide your decisions and the overall work of the organization for the year.
Why Bother with Strategic Planning?
Some people view strategic planning as a mere exercise or paperwork. Not so. It’s vital for a healthy nonprofit. If you have a strategic plan in place you can:
- Make better decisions: Strategic plans provide a framework against which daily choices can be made. It’s easier to decide whether to do one thing or another if you have a rubric against which you can check the choices.
- Clarifies the organization’s mission and values: With a strategic plan in place, it is crystal clear what your organization values and what it intends to do. It clears up where you are headed and makes it easier to describe activities to the public and staff.
- Guides the staff: One way to improve employee engagement is to give them clear directions. People generally work better together when they understand what is expected of them and the direction in which they’re heading. When you build a strategic plan, you outline the overall goals and direction for the year, and the staff understands now what they can do to help achieve the plan and support the organization’s mission.
- Improves fundraising: A strategic plan may provide the impetus and inspiration for marketing staff to create new campaigns and better align their messaging with the organization’s mission.
As you can see, a strategic plan serves many functions. An annual strategic plan offers you the opportunity for direction-setting and cohesive staff guidance. Perhaps, more importantly, it helps you set and guide the direction of your organization, so you’re no longer tossed about by the winds of chance but have your hand firmly at the wheel to steer where you’re headed.
Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please at 206-605-3113 for more information.