Nonprofits have big goals to make our world a better place. From promoting animal welfare to making education more accessible, the nonprofit sector seeks to improve our communities in a variety of ways. While dreaming is a big part of nonprofit planning, it’s even more important to make those dreams a reality.
In order to bring your organization closer to achieving its mission, you need a strategic plan. A strategic plan is a bold plan of action that aligns with your goals, preparing your organization for the future. With this overarching plan, you’ll be able to make tough decisions quickly, prioritize your most important tasks and focus on your goals — both in the short and long-term.
Whether you want to make a plan for the next few months or the next few years, your strategic plan will help you answer big questions along the way. For instance, you’ll know how much money you can allot to your next fundraising campaign and how you’ll market your organization’s programs and events to attract donors. In turn, you’ll see benefits like increased revenue and donor retention.
Not sure where to get started? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! In this article, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of a nonprofit strategic plan. Then, we’ll go over three steps to make your strategic plan come to life:
- Assess your organization’s current state.
- Align your goals and establish priorities.
- Create a plan of action.
Your organization can maximize its efficiency with a roadmap for the future. These steps will help you stay on track to achieve your mission and grow your donor base. Let’s get started.
Strategic Planning: Understanding the Basics
To create your strategic plan, you’ll need a good understanding of what it actually is. According to Aly Sterling Philanthropy, a nonprofit strategic plan is “a bold plan of action that aligns an organization’s goals with its values to provide a dynamic performance map for future endeavors.”
There are three key phases of getting your strategic plan off the ground: assess, align and act. In the assessment phase, you’ll dive into everything your organization has done to date. Consider questions like: What have we done well? Where can we improve? How can we adjust our strategies to maximize our chances of success?
In the align phase, you’ll determine your biggest priorities according to your overarching goals. Think deeply about what you want your organization to accomplish. Be ambitious, but be reasonable within the limits of your budget and staff.
The act phase is where your strategic plan really starts to take shape. Once you have an understanding of your goals and priorities, you’ll plan out how to put it into practice.
Developing a strategic plan is a multi-team effort, meaning you’ll want to get everyone involved — community members, volunteers, staff and leaders! Getting feedback and brainstorming ideas for the future is much better when you have a lot of great minds working together.
Why You Need a Strategic Plan
Without a blueprint, your nonprofit won’t have the sense of organization it needs to be as successful as possible. A strategic plan has a number of benefits both internally on the staff and volunteer side and externally for the community you’re impacting. These benefits include:
- Improved work efficiency. Different teams within your organization will work more fluidly together when they’re all sticking to the same plan. Getting tasks done will also be a much smoother process because you’ve clearly identified your priorities. By working from the highest priority task to the lowest, you’ll find that your organization can accomplish more in a smaller period of time.
- Ability to make decisions easily. Once you’ve created a list of your most important tasks, you’ll know when it makes sense for your organization to take on new objectives or ideas and when it doesn’t. Frame your organization’s actions around your priorities and goals so you can stay on track.
- Opportunity to revisit your mission statement. By reflecting on your mission, you can rework it so it’s stronger and more relevant to your organization’s future goals. Having a clear-cut mission statement helps supporters find and connect with your organization, which can lead to increased donations and volunteers.
- Increased donor engagement. Once you’ve revamped your marketing, fundraising and communication strategies in the action step, you can connect with donors on a deeper level and offer them more opportunities to get involved. This can strengthen your donor relationships, leading to long-term support.
Considering these benefits, it’s worth it to take the time to create a strong strategic plan. Let’s jump into how you’ll make this happen!
1. Assess your organization’s current state.
Your organization has surely made great strides, but there’s always room for improvement. Lift up the hood of your organization and take a look at all those moving parts. There’s your fundraising strategy, communication strategy, marketing strategy, financial health and more to assess!
Up until now, have you been hitting all your goals? If you haven’t, consider which elements of your nonprofit strategy can be strengthened. If you have, how can you continue to improve upon your foundations? What new goals can you set to increase your organization’s level of impact in the community?
This may seem like a lot to think about, but you’re not alone! Rely on your team of staff and volunteers and/or supporters to give you feedback. Surveying stakeholders can be a big help in getting a variety of different perspectives on how to improve your organization.
2. Align your goals and establish priorities.
Now that you’ve seen where you can improve, it’s time to rank tasks in order of priority. For instance, maybe budgeting has always been a challenge for your organization. A priority might be to bolster your fundraising strategy so your campaigns can appeal to as many people as possible, therefore increasing revenue.
Or, maybe you’ve had a difficult time maintaining donors. Prioritizing personalized communications would be helpful to strengthen your relationships with supporters and avoid donor churn.
Remember to keep your goals in mind and make sure that your priorities align with your mission. A great way to do this is by collaborating with other staff and volunteers to discuss the various needs of your nonprofit. Use these different ideas to construct a priority list that will help your nonprofit best meet its goals.
3. Create a plan of action.
With all these great ideas floating around on how to strengthen your nonprofit, you’re ready to make a plan of action. You’ll need to implement the following strategies so you can create an effective model for success:
- Marketing strategy. Feathr found that developing a marketing strategy will help your organization grow to its full potential and bring in more revenue. Your marketing strategy should be tailored to the audience you’re targeting. For example, if your nonprofit is all about uplifting teens to be their most authentic selves, it would be a good idea to build your social media presence. Another important marketing platform your nonprofit needs is an accessible and engaging website to attract donors from all over the world. Be creative and think outside of the box with exciting web content like videos and graphics.
- Communication strategy. Communicating regularly with your supporters is an important part of strengthening donor relationships. Be sure to let supporters know about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities and other highlights of your organization so they can stay in-the-know. You can use a variety of communication channels to share this information, such as text, email or on your website. You’ll also want to show your gratitude to donors by sending personalized thank-you notes or giving them a call.
- Fundraising strategy. A productive fundraising strategy requires engaging fundraising ideas! To plan these exciting fundraisers, your nonprofit might need to cover expenses like food, renting a venue, etc. This is where creating a strategic nonprofit budget becomes important. By carefully determining how much funding you can contribute towards fundraising events, you can bring your ideas to life without breaking the bank. You should also consider the timeframe of your fundraisers, how often you want to hold them each year and how you’ll market them to be successful. A great way to strengthen your fundraising strategy is by creating a nonprofit fundraising calendar. With this calendar, you can develop a proper timeline for each step of your fundraiser.
If you’re looking for additional support when planning your nonprofit’s next fundraiser, a fundraising campaign consultant can help you identify gaps in your strategy and maximize your fundraiser’s success.
Preparation is key to making sure your nonprofit organization can reach its goals. By developing a strategic plan, your nonprofit will be in better shape than ever to tackle obstacles and meet its mission. Good luck!
About the Author
Aly Sterling, President & Founder, Aly Sterling Philanthropy
Long before Aly Sterling founded her eponymous consulting firm, she was solving the unique yet similar problems encountered by nonprofit organizations. Her decision to start her own business in 2007 was driven by her belief in leadership as the single most important factor in organizational success, and her determination to work with multiple causes at one time to scale societal change.
Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute.