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4 Times When A Nonprofit Needs a Strategic Plan

By Nell Edgington



Call me biased, but I think most nonprofits should have a strategic plan, and I mean a good strategic plan, not a bad one. But many don’t. And I get it, sometimes a nonprofit simply doesn’t have the time, energy or resources to devote to a good strategic planning process. But there are some particular times when a nonprofit simply will not be successful without one.

Let me give you an example, Forte Foundation, a national nonprofit focused on getting more women into business careers, wanted to double their reach and impact but didn’t know how to grow or create a sustainable financial model to sustain that kind of growth. At the same time, the organization was trying to be too many things resulting in their small staff being pulled in too many directions. The organization needed to figure out how to focus their resources in order to grow and become more financially sustainable.

Elissa Sangster, Executive Director of Forte Foundation, hired me to lead a strategic planning effort to result in a 4-year strategic plan. I led a strategy committee comprised of school, corporate, and organization board members to conduct market research on trends in the marketplace, analyze key strategic decisions, revise the organization’s vision and mission statements, develop a 4-year budget, and create measurable, executable 4-year goals and objectives. The resulting plan allowed Forte to dramatically increase their impact, while focusing their resources. Once the plan was adopted by the board of directors, I then worked with Elissa to create an annual diversified financial plan to fully fund the costs of the strategic plan.

With a new strategic plan and financial plan in place, Forte is moving forward on growth. Their staff and board now have a much clearer idea of the organization’s value and focus. And they are committed to growing the organization and the revenue to fund it. Forte plans to hire a new Development Director and launch their first ever major donor campaign in the coming months, setting them up for the growth they have envisioned.

So when does a strategic plan really make sense for a nonprofit? Here are the top 4 times:

  1. You Want to Grow. As Forte, and many of my other clients,  discovered, you cannot double, triple or more the work you do in the community without a comprehensive plan for how you will grow operations, staffing, and funding, and make that growth sustainable.

  2. You Want to Raise More Money. It is simply a fact that you will attract more and bigger dollars if you have a clear strategy for the future and a plan that ensures that strategy will actually come to fruition. Without a strategic plan, you are simply asking people to give to your “cause”. That will only get you so far.

  3. You Want to Wake Up Your Board. Board engagement does not come from some magic pill you secretly feed to your board at a meeting. An engaged, excited, invested board is what happens when you give your board the opportunity to come up with a future direction for the organization and determine how they as individuals and as a group fit into it.

  4. You Want to Change Your Program Model. Sometimes because of changing client needs, increasing competition from other providers, changes to government regulations, or other internal or external factors, a nonprofit needs to shift their operating model. But you can’t make a significant change without a plan.

It cannot be denied, there are key times when flying without a plan will get you nowhere. If you are serious about changing business as usual, then you need a strategic plan to get you there. If you’d like to learn more about how I help nonprofits develop a comprehensive strategic plan, check out my Strategic Planning Consulting Service.

Photo Credit: Lauren Tucker Photography

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (www.socialvelocity.net), 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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10 Comments to 4 Times When A Nonprofit Needs a Strategic Plan

[...] Many nonprofits exist without a strategic plan, but there are four particular times when a nonprofit simply will not be successful without one.  [...]

Cindy L Myers
November 14, 2012

I’d add one more: when the nonprofit’s environment is in the midst of disruptive change. For example, if your nonprofit is in the health care field right now, you need a strategic plan in order to anchor your place in the health care system and learn how to sustain and grow under a whole new set of operating principles. You need a strategic plan whether you want to grow and change or not.

Nell Edgington
November 14, 2012

Excellent point, Cindy, and I completely agree. Honestly, I believe that the vast majority of nonprofits need a strategic plan and that’s because the nonprofit sector itself is in the midst of disruptive change. Nonprofits must get more strategic about how to compete in an environment whose metrics, number of entities, requirements, funding sources are all shifting pretty dramatically.

[...] Many nonprofits exist without a strategic plan, but there are four particular times when a nonprofit simply will not be successful without one.  [...]

[...] Call me biased, but I think most nonprofits should have a strategic plan, and I mean a good strategic plan, not a bad one. But many don’t.  [...]

[...] Many nonprofits exist without a strategic plan, but there are four particular times when a nonprofit simply will not be successful without one.  [...]

Derek
November 15, 2012

Nell, do you favour the strategic plan being an internal document with a condensed external version?

Joyce Christie-Taylor, M.S.
November 16, 2012

Because nonprofits are in a constant state of “evolution”…as determined and precipitated by the shift in the dominant influence of critical social problems, an ongoing self-examination of the organization’s “vision” is mandatory, to ensure that it stays “on point” or relevant in its attempt to address the most important or critical social problems. Regularly scheduled “strategic planning” or self-examination of one’s nonprofit is one way to accomplish this!

[...] Many nonprofits exist without a strategic plan, but there are four particular times when a nonprofit simply will not be successful without one.  [...]

Nell Edgington
November 19, 2012

Derek, the strategic plan should guide the overall work of the organization both at the staff and board level. The internal piece is a very tactical and measurable operational plan and the external piece is the high level goals and objectives (the basic direction) of the strategic plan.

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