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Every goal needs a plan to get there, whether you’re trying to learn an instrument, scale a mountain, or enact positive change in your community. From fundraising to advocacy, your nonprofit engages in a variety of activities to make a difference in the lives of those you serve, but how do you ensure that you’re creating the impact you set out to achieve?

By developing a strategic plan, you can produce a blueprint that will guide your decisions and priorities for the next several years. Your staff and volunteers can use this resource to stay on track and explain just how you’re fulfilling your nonprofit’s mission to other stakeholders.

In this guide, we’ll touch on the basics of strategic planning and explore four essential ways your nonprofit can benefit from the process.

What is Nonprofit Strategic Planning?

Strategic planning involves reviewing your nonprofit’s current performance, assessing your environment, and engaging your stakeholders to assemble an actionable roadmap that outlines the specific steps you’ll take to accomplish your goals.

While nonprofits will typically draft a new strategic plan every three to five years, there can be several reasons for undergoing the process. For instance, you might be launching a new program or decide that you need to reallocate your resources. To set your team up for success, Laridae’s nonprofit strategic planning guide recommends asking these questions before you get started:

Eight questions that nonprofits should ask to prepare for the strategic planning process.

  • Do we have a clear and concise goal for this strategic plan?
  • Why are we creating a strategic plan now?
  • Is our nonprofit ready for honest, open reflection?
  • How much of our time and resources can we commit to this process?
  • Who will lead our strategic planning process?
  • How will we engage stakeholders?
  • How will we measure progress toward our strategic planning goals?
  • What tools, skills, or guidance do we need to make the most of this process?

According to NonprofitPRO’s Leadership Impact Study, more nonprofits are beginning to take strategic planning seriously, with 52% committed to creating in-depth strategic plans as opposed to 47% in the previous year. This is because strategic planning comes with a host of benefits for both your nonprofit and the people you serve.

4 Key Benefits of Strategic Planning for Nonprofits

By engaging in the strategic planning process, your nonprofit can unlock the following benefits:

1. More Engaged Stakeholders

Nonprofits rely on the combined efforts of staff, board members, volunteers, donors, and advocates to fulfill their missions. Strategic planning provides an ideal opportunity for checking in with your stakeholders and learning more about their most immediate needs, interests, and priorities. By factoring their feedback into your strategic plan, you can:

  • Increase transparency
  • Build trust and credibility
  • Boost your reputation
  • Tailor your initiatives to fit community needs better

There are several ways to engage your stakeholders, including sending online surveys, hosting town hall sessions, conducting one-on-one interviews, and organizing focus groups.

These activities demonstrate that you’re committed to building strong, lasting relationships with members of your community, setting the stage to secure more support and valuable opportunities such as corporate partnerships.

2. Enhanced Decision-Making

Regularly, your nonprofit must make important decisions that can have a resounding effect on its staff members, volunteers, and beneficiaries. However, with so many factors to consider, including your values, resources, and stakeholder opinions, it can be difficult to hone the decision-making process at your organization.

By evaluating your circumstances and engaging stakeholders during strategic planning, your nonprofit can improve in the following areas:

  • Time and resource management. A strategic plan guards your nonprofit against mission creep, which describes the process of gradually engaging in projects and hosting events that stray away from your core mission. By reaffirming your most important priorities, you can steer staff members toward activities that are directly related to your long-term strategy.
  • Program development. The needs of your community are ever-fluctuating, whether that’s due to local policies, natural disasters, or economic downturns. Strategic planning allows your nonprofit to zero in on the most pressing stakeholder needs you should address and run more impactful programs for your beneficiaries.
  • Risk assessment. As part of your strategic planning process, you’ll typically conduct a SWOT analysis in which you take a look at your nonprofit’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Doing so enables you to take steps to safeguard against potential risks and create informed contingency plans.

Ultimately, a strategic plan should empower your nonprofit to be bold and experiment with different approaches that will deepen your impact. Turn your decision-making process into a well-oiled machine by assigning specific responsibilities and collecting diverse team member perspectives along the way.

3. Better Resource Allocation

Your nonprofit does all it can to acquire the necessary funds and other resources to improve the lives of your beneficiaries. Understanding how to effectively allocate these resources is essential to maximizing your impact on the community.

By engaging stakeholders and crafting a strategic plan, your organization can pinpoint where resources are most urgently needed. For instance, you might conduct a staff survey that reveals that investing in a management training course would go a long way toward cultivating more cohesion and collaboration among your team members. Or, you might realize that you should devote more time and energy to retaining your volunteers.

Furthermore, you’ll be able to solidify a budget for each of your strategic planning objectives, contributing to more responsible financial management across the board.

4. Realigned Team Members

Through the strategic planning process, your nonprofit has the chance to review, adjust, and reaffirm its mission, vision, and values. These three organizational elements are vital for informing your decision-making and unifying your team’s efforts into a cohesive strategy. By developing a clear understanding of how they can directly contribute to your nonprofit’s purpose, your staff members will feel more engaged and inspired in their roles.

Be sure to recognize your team members for their performance and applaud them when they live up to your nonprofit’s values. According to Double the Donation’s employee recognition program ideas, there are a variety of formal and informal ways to appreciate your staff, from recognition awards to thank-you eCards. Practicing frequent recognition reinforces your team expectations and renews commitment toward your outcomes.

A thoughtful strategic plan will make your nonprofit more sustainable and resilient to shifts in the landscape. If your organization has limited experience with the process, consider reaching out to a nonprofit consultant. They’ll help you maximize the benefits of strategic planning by providing an outside perspective and sharing the latest best practices for success.

Measure your nonprofit’s performance, such as the number of people you serve, the average gift amount you receive, and the size of your donor base, to gauge whether you’re on track with your strategic plan. By making adjustments and improvements as you go, you’ll set your organization up for growth and a more meaningful impact in your community in the long run.

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