“In one year of working with Social Velocity, Forte now has a comprehensive and focused strategic plan that includes a plan for financial growth to increase both our organizational scope and reach. The process stretched our staff and board of directors, and left us with a solid, actionable plan.”
— Elissa Sangster, Executive Director of Forte Foundation
“Catholic Charities was at a critical stage in its organizational history in 2010. It was time to revisit our mission and vision. Working with Social Velocity was just what we needed. The strategic planning process allowed us to affirm our core competencies, align our business practices with organizational goals, increase our capacity to serve more people and to set a new direction for our future. Our course is now set and we have a strategic purpose to guide us.”
— Melinda Rodriguez, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Central Texas
The term “strategic plan” has become so misused and abused in the nonprofit sector that it has almost become meaningless. So many organizations have undergone a poor strategic planning process. But the fact remains that to be truly effective at creating social change a nonprofit organization MUST have a strategy for the future and a plan for how they will get there. The payoff to a good strategic plan can be enormous: better program results, more effective use of resources, improved staff morale, more engaged board of directors, more funding flowing to the organization, and ultimately greater social impact.
A successful strategic plan lays out a clear path over a future period (3-5 years) with concrete steps to get there and benchmarks along the way to make sure that you do. Then, the plan is revisited, measured, and updated on a regular basis.
Below is the process Social Velocity takes nonprofits through to create a strategic plan. It is critical that an outsider leads this process. An objective third party can ask the hard questions that others within the organization are afraid to, make sure that discussions stay on track, keep the end goal always in sight, and ensure that an organization doesn’t just settle back into the “comfortable” way of doing things.
There are 8 basic steps to Social Velocity’s strategic planning process:
- Create a Team: Nell creates a strategic planning working group/committee made up of key board members, and management staff and external stakeholders, if appropriate. This group will meet periodically to guide the process, create recommendations and suggested directions for the board to review and approve, finalize the plan and make sure it is being executed.
- Analyze the Internal Situation: Nell helps an organization uncover the strengths and weaknesses of the internal organization by surveying staff, board, and other key constituents to the organization. She also helps the organization articulate their theory of change. It is no longer enough to simply do good work; in an increasingly competitive landscape, a nonprofit organization must articulate how they translate resources (funding, staff, board, volunteers) into change to a social problem. A theory of change, or logic model, helps the organization articulate what they exist to do. From that articulation, a strategic direction can be born.
- Analyze the External Environment: In order to chart a strategic direction it is not enough to understand what is going on internally. The nonprofit must research their competitors (those providing similar services in the community) and consumers (funders and clients) in order to understand trends. Nell guides this process and, with market research in hand, helps the organization map their external environment and how their core competencies relate to community needs and the competing forces working to address those needs.
- Refine Vision and Mission: Given this internal and external analysis, Nell helps the organization revisit and refine their vision and mission. These two statements are very different, but often confused. The vision of the organization is the future reality in the external world that the organization would like to see, for example: “An end to homelessness.” It isn’t necessarily achievable, but it is what the organization is striving to make happen. A mission is how the organization is working towards that vision. It describes the impact point and what the organization exists to do, for example: “To move the homeless population of Phoenix off the streets through access to education, health care and job training.”
- Develop Goals and Objectives: Given the vision and mission and the external environment, Nell then helps the organization determine what they want to accomplish in the next X years. She leads the organization to create 3-5 broad, measurable, achievable goals in the specific time frame of the plan. More than 5 goals are too much for staff and board to focus on. She then breaks each of the 3-5 broad goals into 3-5 measurable objectives, or steps, to get there. What is it going to take to make each goal happen?
- Create the Financial Model: It is not enough to have program and organizational goals. A successful nonprofit realizes that goals cost money and there must be a plan for how those costs will be spent and how the revenue will be generated to meet them. Nell creates a multi-year projection of revenue and expenses based on the goals of the strategic plan.
- Operationalize the Plan: For each objective, Nell helps the organization create a timeline with activities, deliverables, people responsible and due dates. This operational plan is put into a tracking system that all staff are comfortable with and will use on a regular basis to update and refine their activities.
- Monitor the Plan: Nell helps the organization develop a process to monitor and measure achievement of the deliverables and the overall goals of the plan at least quarterly, and to revise the plan as needed. The strategic plan begins to drive activity at the nonprofit. As such, management team meetings are based on the goals of the plan and what is being achieved or not achieved. Department meetings and board meetings are similarly driven by the goals and status of plan.
It’s not enough to go through the “strategy” motions. A real strategic plan is bold, compelling, tactical, well-financed, integrated and inspiring. It gets everyone (staff, board, funders, volunteers, clients) moving forward in a common direction from which real change flows.
If you would like to download a PDF describing our strategic planning process, click here.
If you want to talk with Nell about whether a consulting engagement might be right for your nonprofit, fill out this form. We’ll get back to you within 24 hours to schedule a time to talk.