Don’t let all this talk about nonprofit plans, strategic plans, fundraising plans, marketing plans or annual plans get you rattled. Whenever your nonprofit year begins – be it January or June – it’s never too late to put nonprofit planning on the agenda.
Even if your organization only comprises yourself, your mother, the green grocer down the road, a local urban farmer, two student volunteers and the dog; all nonprofits started somewhere!
Basically, nonprofit planning is setting out the considerations (on paper) that you’ll have hammered out when deciding to start a nonprofit in the first place. Ignore the naysayers who argue that you should have had a plan long ago – everyone’s been busy getting organized – and just get on with it.
Do We Have to Have a Nonprofit Plan?
“This sounds doable but why do we need a plan anyway, we’re so small?” Often smaller charities and start-ups will work without any plan in place. But all nonprofits start with a dream and need to grow, expanding and evolving to keep meeting the needs of their clients.
This famous quote from Benjamin Franklin puts nonprofit planning in perspective; “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail…”
You don’t want to find yourself in a few years’ time, spinning your wheels, and struggling to make your goals a reality. Don’t let this relatively easy step hold you up; what you’ll be doing is making a simple road map – your nonprofit plan.
How to Get Started
Pretend you’re taking a road trip and GPS hasn’t been invented. It’s a bit like going to Des Moines – you’ll need a map from your state to the outskirts of Des Moines – that’s your strategic plan. But once you get to Des Moines, you’ll need a map of the city to find your destination – that’s your annual plan.
Just like a road trip without a map, a disorganized, higgledy-piggledy organization is a recipe for hassles and stress. So, a strategic plan will have the bigger picture; several years – usually three to five – and the annual plan will be, well, annual.
No matter how small your charity or how far down the road you are, you need your nonprofit plans written out. The guidelines in your annual plan gives focus to the work, in line with your planned strategy while the strategic plan maps out how to get where you want to be.
The Strategic Plan
A strategic nonprofit plan is a long term outline of where your organization is headed over three to five years and should be adaptable to changing industry conditions. Recently strategic planning has come under fire because of a lack of flexibility in a rapidly shifting sector. Let’s give it a new name and call it a Master Plan and it should contain these fundamentals:
- Mission statement: The mission statement is the motive for starting the nonprofit in the first place and defines what you do.
- Vision statement: The vision statement describes where the nonprofit is headed. It is what you hope to become and forms the motivation for the board of directors, staff, volunteers and supporters.
- Core Values: The core values are the ideals and ethics with which your nonprofit will run its operations. With a noble mission and superb vision, your path to get there can often expose the value of your organization.
- Objectives: An assessment and explanation of your goals and the problems you hope to solve through your nonprofit work. Defining the needs to be met supports your work and makes your nonprofit attractive to donors eager to help with fundraising.
- Organizational Statement: An organizational assessment is where the nonprofit stands today. To reach your destination, you need to know where the journey starts. This assessment makes public the strengths and weakness in your nonprofit so that specific areas can be improved.
- Core Strategies: The strategies the nonprofit will use to realize the goals (described above) steering the nonprofit to the vision of what it should become. These strategies are the tools you’ll use to achieve your goals while observing the core values.
This master (strategic) plan is often based on the dream and the vision of the nonprofit but the actionable realities are laid out in the annual plan.
The Annual Plan
“Our nonprofit has a strategic plan, isn’t that good enough?” The annual plan is a mini version of the strategic plan; taking the tactics outlined there and breaking them down into actionable steps, one year at a time. Over the course of a year, there won’t be many changes that will impact greatly on your nonprofit plan.
An annual plan, being more detailed, will reach its objectives by actions which become the specific responsibilities of the staff and volunteers.
Many strategic plans get abandoned because the organization doesn’t hold staff accountable for the outcomes of the smaller actions outlined in the annual plan. For your nonprofit plan to succeed, everyone in the organization should be on-board. Involve the people – who will work the plan – when you make the plan and get ready for renewed motivation and enthusiasm for the mission.
Does your nonprofit operate without or with a plan? Where do you stand on the issue of nonprofit planning?