Nonprofit Strategic Plan: A Rundown & How To Create Your Own
What does the future look like for your nonprofit?
There’s no need to guess—instead, you can create a nonprofit strategic plan to outline your goals toward accomplishing your organization’s mission. Your plan can guide your efforts to fundraise, grow the size of your organization, and ultimately, help you do more for the beneficiaries you serve.
No matter what type of nonprofit you’re a part of, there are a few essentials you’ll need to know to create your next strategic plan that you’ll want to incorporate as you work to shape your organization’s future. In this guide, we’ll give you a leg up by covering:
- All About Nonprofit Strategic Planning
- How Your Nonprofit Can Benefit From a Strategic Plan
- Strategic Planning Steps to Follow
- 5 Examples of Strong Nonprofit Strategic Plans
- Free Nonprofit Strategic Plan Template
As you get started with your own strategic planning process, remember to be ambitious but realistic (and flexible!) as you envision your organization’s future and set the goals that you want to achieve.
All About Nonprofit Strategic Planning
Before you dive into nonprofit strategic planning, you should have a solid understanding of the fundamentals. In this section, we’ll cover all the basics you should know.
What is a nonprofit strategic plan?
A nonprofit strategic plan is a document that lays out the goals that will get you closer to accomplishing your mission. Think of your strategic plan as a way of transforming your nonprofit’s ideals—such as the impact you’d like to have on the community in which you operate—into specific actions your organization can accomplish within a defined period of time.
How far ahead do I need to plan?
Typically strategic plans are created with the next three to five years in mind, but more and more organizations are creating strategic plans intended to last one to three years. This shorter time frame is in many ways ideal, as it provides your organization with more opportunities to respond to changes in the wider nonprofit sector as well as the communities you serve.
Who should be involved in strategic planning?
You’ll want to involve multiple stakeholders in planning for your nonprofit’s future. This will help you ensure that you’re setting goals you can achieve and that will truly make a difference to your mission in the long term. Specifically, you should involve:
- Your board. Your board members and other individuals involved in your nonprofit’s leadership should use some of their communications and meeting time to work on creating definite goals to include in your strategic plan that help further your mission in the community.
- Your staff. Your staff members have various roles in your nonprofit’s operations and can thus provide helpful perspectives on your strong points and potential areas of improvement. Both they and your board members can provide insight into how your organization is perceived by those who benefit from your work and those who support you.
- Your consultant. Your nonprofit’s team can develop a strategic plan using your own knowledge as well as resources available online. However, if you would like to incorporate the outside perspective of a consultant, you’ll want them to be involved from the earliest stages of the process so that they can help you create the most effective strategic plan.
- Your key community partners. Local politicians, business owners, and community members who are invested in your work and want to see your nonprofit succeed can offer a unique perspective. Involve them to see how your mission can continue to be delivered successfully and decide which goals will have a lasting impact on your beneficiaries.
Collaboration is the key to a successful nonprofit strategic plan. When everyone involved in the process—your board, your staff, your volunteers, your consultant, and members of the communities you serve—understands your goals and the steps you’re taking to reach them, your strategic plan will guide your nonprofit to new levels of success.
How Your Nonprofit Can Benefit From A Strategic Plan
Engaging in nonprofit strategic planning not only sets your organization up for taking action toward your long-term goals over the coming months and years; it also provides a wealth of other benefits. Specifically, your nonprofit can:
- Align your team and goals with your larger mission. Any goal-setting process is a chance for you and your internal team to review your current state and your desired goals, and to gauge whether you’re on track to accomplish your mission down the road.
- Actively engage your stakeholders. Strategic planning is a process that your board of directors, major givers, and even corporate and community partners can all take part in. As they help you design your vision for your organization’s future, their investment in your work will deepen and you will be able to proactively identify further opportunities for them to be involved in your goals.
- Plan to make the most of your available resources. Running a nonprofit means making the most out of limited resources. By carefully planning the goals your organization wants to work toward in the next few years, you can prepare to allocate your resources to maximize both impact and efficiency.
- Set your organization up to track progress toward large goals. It’s important to track your progress toward large goals. When you know what those goals are for the foreseeable future, you can actively monitor your progress by tracking metrics, looking for patterns and trends, and adjusting your approach as needed to move your entire team closer to success.
- Prepare your nonprofit to make decisions based on your values and top priorities. A strategic plan can act as a litmus test and give you something to measure your decisions against. If a project or initiative will help you get closer to the long-term goals outlined in your plan, it can be an easy thing to say yes to. If not, you can work to make adjustments to proposed ideas and options that will better align them with your strategic plan and, ultimately, your larger mission.
There’s no question that creating a thorough nonprofit strategic plan takes time and effort. However, as you envision the future state of your nonprofit, you’ll not only tap into the benefits above but also unify your community around your shared commitment to your mission.
Strategic Planning Steps to Follow
To create your own strategic plan, there are a few tried-and-true steps you and your team can follow:
1. Partner with a consultant for guidance throughout the strategic planning process.
The nonprofit strategic planning process requires you to examine each aspect of your organization—the roles of your team members, the procedures under which you operate, and the work you do for the communities you serve—closely and thoroughly. Doing so objectively can be difficult for your organization’s team. You may benefit from the external guidance of a nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
If your organization is planning to partner with a consultant to create your next strategic plan, it’s important that you put in the necessary research to choose the best consultant to suit your specific needs. As you consider your options, ensure that you’re working to select a consultant who:
- Understands your mission and needs. While the consultant you hire will help you develop overarching goals and measurable objectives during the strategic planning process, you’ll want to select someone who understands your mission and the work you do even before you begin your collaboration.
- Matches your nonprofit’s size and experience level. You’ll have the most success with a consultant that helps your organization build your capacity by first meeting you where you are. The projects that you develop under the guidance of your consultant should help your nonprofit grow without extending beyond reasonable limits.
- Is prepared to be included in each step of the strategic planning process. The nonprofit strategic planning process isn’t complete once a final draft of the first document is drawn up and circulated among your team members. The best strategic planning consultant for your organization is one who understands that revisions will inevitably occur and who will help you make these decisions as the need for them arises.
2. Collaborate to define your nonprofit strategic planning goals.
Even shorter nonprofit strategic plans are intended to address many aspects of your organization over relatively long periods of time. As your board members, staff, and other individuals involved with your organization work together in the early stages of the strategic planning process, your first step should be to evaluate your organization’s current standing so that you can define reasonable yet ambitious goals for your strategic plan.
One highly-effective starting place for evaluating your nonprofit and beginning to define your goals for your next strategic plan is an analysis of your strengths, challenges, opportunities, and vulnerabilities.
The people involved in the various aspects of your organization’s work will each have different and valuable considerations for each category, but they may include:
- Strengths. What aspects of your nonprofit’s operations, structure, and team have been responsible for your most significant recent successes? Perhaps you have particularly successful programs, a well-connected board, enthusiastic volunteers, or a generous and loyal base of supporters. Perhaps you have all of these strengths, and seek to expand them.
- Challenges. Just as your nonprofit undoubtedly has unique strengths, it’s likely that you’ve encountered some recurring operational challenges. Identifying these can help you set some early goals for your strategic plan to make your organization even better than it already is. Staff retention, a lack of new faces on the board, and flat fundraising might be challenges affecting your nonprofit.
- Opportunities. Building on your current strengths, brainstorm opportunities for your nonprofit that you can transform into concrete goals. Are there ways to improve communications among your team, for instance, or areas of your community that could benefit from your organization’s work? How can you expand impact? Refresh the board? Raise more money?
- Vulnerabilities. Not all of the challenges that your nonprofit may have to face are connected to your organization’s operations or structure. If there are external reasons that you may have trouble connecting with your community or reaching your fundraising goals, for instance, you’ll want to address these in your nonprofit strategic plan.
Once your team has worked together to identify some of the internal and external strengths and challenges that will shape your strategic plan and used them to set some preliminary goals, you can begin the process of defining those goals in measurable terms.
3. Use your strategic planning goals to develop measurable objectives.
Regardless of your nonprofit’s specific goals and objectives, you’ll benefit from identifying ways to reach them through the process of capacity building. Capacity building activities and projects are those that facilitate the deepening of your nonprofit’s mission and impact and allow you to maintain the good work you’re already doing.
Transforming broader goals derived from your mission into specific and measurable objectives is an important part of the strategic planning process. Whether you’re partnering with a nonprofit fundraising consultant to identify opportunities for capacity building or using your team’s knowledge and resources, your strategic plan will benefit from the inclusion of specific projects intended to help you reach your goals through actionable steps.
Examples of capacity building projects like those that your organization may incorporate into your strategic plan may include:
- Mapping out the future of your organization’s leadership. When your current executives move up in your organization or choose to take advantage of other opportunities, who will succeed them? Reevaluating and more clearly defining the structure of your nonprofit’s leadership can be beneficial to your organization’s efficacy.
- Investing in new technology. Staying connected with your supporters online is increasingly important for building your nonprofit’s brand recognition and encouraging giving. Upgrading your organization’s technology is a capacity building project that can benefit both your supporters and your team members.
- Recruiting more volunteers. Without the dedication and hard work of your volunteers, your nonprofit couldn’t accomplish all of the good work you do for the communities you serve. Especially if one of your goals is to extend your reach to include new communities or new means of serving them, recruiting volunteers is an important capacity building project.
- Developing a board candidate pipeline. Your board is your organization’s leadership group. Good governance dictates adherence to term limits and an active, disciplined nomination function.
The process of capacity building helps your nonprofit obtain the resources you need to serve your community more effectively. After you’ve transformed large-scale goals into measurable objectives and solidified the resources and structure to achieve those objectives, prioritize your efforts to begin enacting your strategic plan efficiently.
4. Prioritize objectives for your nonprofit strategic plan.
The nonprofit strategic planning process is a collaborative effort involving your board and staff that will require continuous reevaluation throughout the years in which your plan is in effect. Prioritizing the objectives contained within your strategic plan ensures that you work efficiently and make more progress toward achieving your goals.
When it comes to prioritizing objectives, every organization’s needs are different. However, any nonprofit can benefit from categorizing these objectives to better understand how they fit together within your organization’s operations and your overall strategic plan. To help with organizing and prioritizing your objectives, think of them in categories such as:
- Leadership objectives. Most of the responsibilities for these objectives will be carried out by your board members. Ensure that individual steps in each process are clearly assigned to different leaders and members and that the board communicates frequently to stay updated on their progress.
- Operations objectives. Carried out in large part by your staff and your volunteers, operations objectives could include improvements to your organization’s internal processes, for example, or more effective means of carrying out your work in the communities you serve.
- Fundraising objectives. Your organization’s leadership, board members, staff, volunteers, and any fundraising consultants you’ve chosen to partner with will all play important roles in creating and meeting fundraising objectives. These may include finding ways to encourage recurring contributions, increasing giving to your annual fund, or offering supporters new giving methods.
One of the largest fundraising objectives your organization may choose to address is a plan for your next capital campaign. Like the other objectives contained within your plan, this undertaking can be accomplished most efficiently when you break each component of the campaign into steps. Preliminary planning efforts such as the creation of a gift range chart are extremely helpful resources for breaking down and achieving your goals.
While every nonprofit’s goals, objectives, and strategic planning processes are unique, reflecting different missions, priorities, and organizational structures, at least one aspect of the process is common to all organizations: the need for revision as you carry out your plan.
5. Revisit your strategic plan to make necessary adjustments.
As your nonprofit continues pursuing your good work in the communities you serve over time, conditions in these communities and at your organization are bound to shift and change. Your work itself will be responsible for some of these effects, as will external circumstances beyond your organization’s control. Capacity building is important because it leaves your nonprofit with an improved structure and tools that make you capable of maintaining your positive impact even when the details of your strategic plan have to change.
While your organization can’t predict all possible changes as you create your strategic plan, you can take steps throughout the strategic planning process to help ensure that the plan you create will be flexible enough to handle unexpected shifts. These steps include:
- Developing a theory of change. Especially in the earliest stages of your nonprofit strategic planning process, envisioning and discussing a theory of change—beginning with your mission-based goals and working backward to identify potential paths toward reaching them—is an effective approach to the process. It helps ensure that everyone involved in the planning process has a clear understanding of your overarching goals, even if the paths have to change.
- Communicating regularly with everyone involved. Nonprofit strategic planning is a team effort, as is realizing the objectives and goals outlined in the plan. Effective communication among all the various participants and components of your organization is essential to keeping your plan updated as circumstances change.
- Revise your plan as needed. The need for revisions doesn’t mean that your original strategic plan was flawed or lacking—it just means that aspects of your organization or of the communities you serve have changed over time and their needs can be best met in new ways.
With effective collaboration, efficient communication, and adaptability, your nonprofit’s team is capable of creating and updating a successful strategic plan that will help your organization progress no matter what the future brings.
5 Examples of Strong Nonprofit Strategic Plans
As you begin to outline your own strategic plan for the next few years, take inspiration from other nonprofits’ strategic planning efforts. Here are a few examples to help inspire you:
1. Tiffany Circle Strategic Plan
Tiffany Circle is an organization connected to the American Red Cross. It describes itself as a “community of women leaders who advance the American Red Cross mission through a focused investment of time, talent and treasure by engaging and embracing women locally, nationally and internationally.”
Tiffany Circle’s strategic plan for 2024-2025 is guided by the American Red Cross’s overarching principles and missions, as well as the organization’s own mission statement. On its strategic plan web page, Tiffany Circle outlines its strategic plan themes, as well as its objectives and specific goals related to membership growth, revenue, donations, and volunteer engagement.
Why This Strategic Plan Stands Out
Tiffany Circle’s strategic plan is succinct and simple, making it easy for its leaders, members, and other supporters to access and reference as the organization begins work on its goals for the next two years. It is also strongly rooted in the larger Tiffany Circle mission and the American Red Cross mission.
2. Habitat for Humanity Sarasota
Habitat for Humanity Sarasota serves the Sarasota, Florida community with its affordable housing and home repair programs. Over the last 35+ years, the organization has helped improve the living conditions of 400 families.
Habitat for Humanity Sarasota’s strategic plan outlines goals for June 2021-2024. Within its strategic plan document, the organization outlines four major goals related to sustainable organizational growth, increased impact on families in need, new partnerships, and increased public awareness. For each goal, the organization has outlined strategic objectives, specific approaches, and carefully-chosen metrics and targets.
Why This Strategic Plan Stands Out
The best strategic plans not only lay out ambitious goals but detail specifically how the organization will reach those goals. Habitat for Humanity Sarasota does just that. For instance, one strategic objective outlined in the plan is “Implement new construction efficiencies.” The metrics and targets identified for this objective include implementing cost-effective construction purchasing and creating new floor plans, providing specific direction for how to achieve the objective.
3. World Wildlife Fund-Pacific
World Wildlife Fund-Pacific (WWF-Pacific) focuses its efforts on conservation and natural resource management in the South Pacific marine environment.
WWF-Pacific’s 2025 strategic plan is an extensive document, sharing the organization’s history, past achievements, and goals to reach by 2025. It also outlines the different ways departments within the organization will help move WWF-Pacific closer to its goals, how the organization will measure progress and impact, and WWF-Pacific’s aspirations for 2030.
Why This Strategic Plan Stands Out
This strategic plan is extensive and gives great attention to the little details that will help WWF-Pacific reach ambitious goals. It’s also designed for the public to reference, including engaging original artwork and other helpful visuals to make the content more digestible and useful. One especially impactful section is “Aspirational Headlines for 2025,” which shows the world that WWF-Pacific is striving to design.
4. Atlanta Humane Society
The Atlanta Humane Society has been caring for the Atlanta, Georgia Metro community and its animals for 150 years, providing sheltering, adoption, veterinary care, and community outreach services.
Atlanta Humane Society’s website provides a strategic plan for 2022-2024. This strategic plan is short and sweet, with a message from the organization’s president, updates on past achievements, and an outline of an overarching goal (“Improve the lives and wellbeing of pets and their people.”), key priorities, and the approach the organization will take to get there.
Why This Strategic Plan Stands Out
While there is surely more strategy baked into the goals and priorities outlined on this strategic plan web page, the simplistic approach to how Atlanta Humane Society presents its strategic plan makes it shine. The brevity of the plan allows for flexibility in how the organization reaches its goals and allows for any necessary pivoting or revising should circumstances or needs change in the coming months.
5. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado (BBBS of Colorado) is dedicated to helping children realize their potential by matching children with adult mentors that can help them “ignite the power and promise of youth.”
BBBS of Colorado has a strategic plan for 2022-2025. Its focus areas are superior customer experiences, innovative and impactful programs, and scaled growth with measurable impact. Within its strategic plan document, the organization provides high-level summaries of five “big visions” for its volunteers, participants, and internal team.
Why This Strategic Plan Stands Out
The BBBS of Colorado strategic plan is highly focused on the outcomes for its participants, demonstrating that all of its big visions are aligned with its mission. It also includes a message from the organization’s leaders about the organization’s current state and vision for the future, which helps demonstrate the strong collaboration from various teams in the organization to design the plan. Our other favorite element? The video on their strategic plan web page that provides an overview of the plan.
Free Nonprofit Strategic Planning Template
Now that you’ve reviewed our guidance for designing a nonprofit strategic plan, it’s time to get started on your own. This free template pulls together all the main points you should consider when designing your own plan.
Nonprofit strategic planning empowers your organization to not just dream about its future but to make a plan to get there. Using this guide, work together with your board, staff members, community partners, and consultant to create a strategic plan that can guide your actions and help you get closer to achieving your mission. You can do it!
Want to keep reading about the world of fundraising? Check out these additional resources:
- Conducting a Planning and Feasibility Study: A Guide. A planning and feasibility study helps you gauge your readiness for a large campaign. Learn how to conduct one in this guide.
- Your Capital Campaign Case Statement: How to Write It. A case statement is a central part of a strong capital campaign plan. Get all the writing tips you need in this guide.
- 7 Steps to Encourage Church Donors During Your Annual Appeal. Preparing for your diocesan annual appeal? Make the most of your fundraising efforts using these tips to encourage church donors.
- Your Nonprofit’s Annual Fund: Everything You Need to Know. Your annual fund helps you keep your doors open. Learn how to fill and grow yours!
- Donor Retention: A Crash Course & 11 Winning Strategies. Learn how to retain your givers’ long-term support in this quick guide.