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How to Convince Your Board You Need a Strategic Plan

By Nell Edgington

It amazes me how board members can sometimes stand in the way of the nonprofit for which they are supposedly the chief supporters.  And the executive director can be incredibly lonely when she sees, but the board does not, what the organization desperately needs.

This is often true with a strategic plan, which I believe is absolutely critical to a nonprofit’s success. Without an overall strategy, a nonprofit is relegated to the world of “doing good work,” instead of the world of “making a real difference.” And these days more and more funders, supporters, advocates, partners and decision makers are requiring that nonprofits do more than just good work.

So what is an executive director to do when her board of directors doesn’t want to invest time, effort and resources into creating an overall strategy? Get tough and tell your board what a strategic plan will do for you:

  • It Will Bring Us More Funding. Donors will give bigger and longer-term gifts if they understand where an organization is headed and how they will get there. It is getting harder and harder to convince a donor to give based on goodwill or good works. You now need to convince a donor that 1) your organization is uniquely positioned to deliver a solution to a social problem and 2)you have a strategy to get there.

  • It Will Put Our Staff to Their Highest and Best Use. Staff will be more engaged, invested and productive if they understand the bigger picture and their individual contribution to it. A good strategic planning process gets staff engaged and invested in the organization and helps them understand their unique contribution to its goals.

  • It Will Get Our Board Moving. Without a strategy to guide them, a board of directors becomes a loosely linked group of volunteers who show up a handful of times a year to nod and slap each other on the back. If you really want to marshal this potential army and leverage all the resources, expertise, networks and mind-share they could bring, you have to give them a broader vision and purpose for their work. A good strategic plan gets a board both excited about the big picture and committed to their role in making it happen.

  • It Will Bring Us Financial Security. A good strategic plan forces an organization to analyze and develop a comprehensive, long-term financial model for the organization. Without a long-term strategy for mission AND money you will continue to ride the hamster wheel of never having enough. And that’s exhausting.

  • It Will Ensure We Create Change. Without a strategy you will end up somewhere, but it’s probably not where you wanted to be. A well-thought out strategic plan that begins with an articulation of the social problem(s) your nonprofit is trying to solve and how you work to solve it ensures that you get there. Without a strategy you will do a lot of work and use a lot of resources but may never actually create change.

It is really too bad that the words “strategic plan” have become so abused in the nonprofit sector that some board members are instantly turned off when the topic arises. To be sure, there are many bad strategic plans out there. But those nonprofit organizations that invest the necessary time and resources to create a really good strategy will be the ones that create lasting change.

You can learn more about Social Velocity’s strategic planning process here.

Photo Credit: Tambako

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

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11 Comments to How to Convince Your Board You Need a Strategic Plan

July 25, 2012

I couldn’t agree more on the importance of the strategic plan and having your nonprofit’s board not only support it, but champion the process, the document, and its implementation.

In my experience, boards need little convincing to do strategic planning and create goals and objectives for the future. What about the other side of the same coin? I’ve been hearing more stories about the other way around where EDs and management resist the process altogether, particularly among smaller organizations. How does the board convince the ED, and perhaps founder, that it’s time for the organization to go through a strategic planning process (and make some tough decisions along the way)? Even more difficult, how do you convince staff leadership to follow it, especially when it’s a new to young organization?

Garth Nowland-Foreman
July 25, 2012

The trouble with articles like this is that people believe them. Or rather they see the ‘strategic plan’ as the magic pill their organisation just has to swallow. Much time and resources are wasted in the name of ‘strategic planning’. I have put ‘strategy’ and ‘plan’ in those annoying inverted commas because, like Henry Mintzberg, I believe that they are diametrically opposed concepts. Both definitely important for organisations, but with contradictory demands that will pull you in opposite directions, and which require COMPLETELY different modes of thinking. When we confound the two, we risk ending up with the worst of both worlds.

Nell Edgington
July 25, 2012

Efrem, there are definitely nonprofits where staff is not interested in creating a strategy, but I have found that the less likely scenario. But if that resistance does exist, I think the arguments for doing a strategic plan are the same. It creates engagement, financial security and most importantly social change.

And to your question about how to convince staff to follow a strategic plan that happens by 1)engaging staff from the very beginning of the strategic planning process and 2) including an on-going monitoring process that is integrated into the day-to-day work of the organization.

Nell Edgington
July 25, 2012

Garth, I couldn’t agree more that “much time and resources are wasted in the name of strategic planning.” It is shocking to me how poorly the vast majority of strategic planning is done. But that does not at all mean that a good strategic plan is not required. To the contrary, without one a nonprofit is just spinning its wheels and often wasting time and resources. In our increasingly competitive and social-problem infused world, it is more important than ever that nonprofits understand what they are trying to accomplish, what value they are adding to a social problem, and how they will marshal limited resources to attack that problem.

July 27, 2012

I couldn’t agree more. There needs to be a vision, plan and strategic to implement but the plan shouldn’t die or be put on the shelf once the plan is created. It needs to be monitored, managed, updated and reported regularly. There are web-based tools to do this that are quite easy that allow individuals or teams to update their sections so the entire plan will be updated! Our team uses this tool and we all know how we stand (and our board does, too!)

Here’s another blog with Top 10 Tips for Effective Strategic Planning!

Nell Edgington
July 27, 2012

Lisa, yes, monitoring and revising the plan is so critical. The worst thing you can do is create a plan and then let it sit on a shelf. Thanks for the link to the other article, that’s great!

George Slook
July 27, 2012

In such discussions, I focus on the need for “strategic thinking” as a necessary requirement to anticipate and manage change.

[…] How to Convince Your Board You Need a Strategic Plan [Social Velocity] 0 Comments […]

Jane Garthson
August 23, 2012

I fully agree with the article – provided the facilitator/consultant understands how to start with the change the group wants to create, and strategic thinking about making that happen. Strategic planning is essential, and avoiding it because it is sometimes done badly makes no sense at all. Do we avoid hiring because some hires don’t work out, or learn how to do better hiring?

I have read several books by Mintzberg on strategic planning, and while he does criticize (in the constructive sense of the word) many of the processes used, he is strongly in favour of good planning.

[…] How to Convince Your Board You Need a Strategic Plan ( […]

[…] to do this is to lay out a strategic plan, for both your organization as well as for the board. Get tough and tell your board what a strategic plan will do for you. It will help you raise more funds as your board members will be able to lay out a plan to […]

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