Thou Shalt Strategic Plan

We in the nonprofit sector have a love/hate relationship with strategic planning, despite how crucial it is to a nonprofit organization’s impact and sustainability. Our funders expect us to have one, and for many, it’s a requirement to even receive funding. We’ve all worked for or with an organization that doesn’t have one (or if they do, it probably lives on the shelf in the Executive Director’s office).

A strategic plan provides clarity, focus and direction for your organization, and when done right, drives organizational alignment among staff, board and stakeholders toward achieving your impact or vision.

When we think about strategic planning, we usually think about the final product; yet, the process is often overlooked or underprioritized.  If you don’t prioritize the process, you’re going to end up with a product that doesn’t resonate with your stakeholders, and likely sits on shelf.

To help my fellow nonprofit professionals not just survive a strategic planning process, but ensure it leads to a valuable product, here’s my Strategic Planning Playlist to inspire you throughout the process, and my three Strategic Planning Commandments to help you get started:

1. “Question thy purpose”

It’s crucial to first identify the key strategic questions your organization faces or will face in the next 3-5 years. Work with your leadership team and board to identify the top 5-7 strategic questions.

Sample Strategic Questions

2.“Engage thy stakeholders”

stakeholder engagement examples

It’s important to include critical stakeholders in your strategic planning process to prevent any surprises, disagreement and/or misalignment on the strategic direction. Critical stakeholders could include a foundation, clients, partner organizations, board and staff, etc.

You’ll want to identify all the critical stakeholders, and how you plan on engaging them. The intensity and level of engagement will vary. Knowing who needs to be involved in strategic planning and how they should be involved is critical component to a successful planning process.

3.“Know thyself”

There are SO many processes and options when it comes to strategic planning. Some organizations can spend a few days developing their strategic direction, while others need a few months (in some cases, a full year!). You know your organization and your needs best. Use these pointers to design the process that works for your team:

  • Be realistic about the length of time needed to thoughtfully engage in strategic planning.
  • Consider the additional resources you may need to ensure success.
  • Have honest conversations about what your organization needs.
  • Develop a process that sets you up for a successful strategic planning process.

At Mission Capital, we’re currently undergoing strategic planning, and recently brought on our new CEO, Madge Vasquez. We quickly realized that the timeframe we originally outlined didn’t allow her time to fully integrate into her new role as CEO. We extended our ‘Taking Stock’ phase to allow Madge additional time to speak with stakeholders and understand our organization. This goes to show that you know your organization best, and your strategic planning process should reflect that!

Making the Process Work for You

If you have too much on your plate and strategic planning is in your future, we can help! By bringing us in as an external consultant to manage the process, we help you determine what your organization intends to accomplish, and how to best direct your resources toward achieving those goals.

Or, if you’re short on time and need help stepping in the right direction, consider attending Strategy & Sustainability: Planning for What’s Next, a one-day intensive designed to help your organization create a flexible strategy road map to respond to new opportunities and challenges.  Wherever you fall on the strategic planning spectrum, remember that you don’t have to do it alone!

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