5 Steps of Strategic Planning for Nonprofits Guide


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If you want your nonprofit organization to thrive and make a lasting impact, strategic planning is the key. This guide will walk you through the 5 steps of strategic planning for nonprofits, providing valuable insights and actionable advice along the way.

Did you know that almost half of all nonprofits lack a strategic plan? This means they are missing out on the numerous benefits that come with strategic planning. Organizations with a strategic plan in place report increased revenue generation, improved effectiveness, and better alignment of their efforts with their mission.

Whether you are starting from scratch or revisiting your existing plan, following these 5 steps will help you develop a strategic plan that sets your nonprofit up for success:

Key Takeaways:

  • Nonprofits should prioritize strategic planning to navigate challenges and achieve their goals.
  • Strategic planning involves defining the organization’s mission, setting goals, and determining strategies to achieve them.
  • Nonprofits should regularly engage in the strategic planning process every 3 to 5 years.
  • There are different types of strategic plans that nonprofits can adopt based on their unique circumstances and goals.
  • Successful nonprofit strategic planning can lead to improved clarity, effectiveness, and fundraising potential.

What is Strategic Planning for Nonprofits?

Strategic planning for nonprofits involves creating a blueprint that guides the organization towards its goals and objectives. It is the process of defining the organization’s mission, identifying important goals, and determining the strategies to achieve them. A strategic plan ensures that the necessary pathways are charted to meet the organization’s goals effectively.

Strategic planning is a critical component of nonprofit management and resource allocation. It provides a structured approach to decision-making, allowing organizations to align their activities with their mission and make informed choices about resource allocation. By developing a comprehensive strategic plan, nonprofits can maximize their impact, enhance their sustainability, and effectively respond to changes in the external environment.

strategic planning for nonprofit organizations

  • Mission: Clearly defining the organization’s purpose and the impact it seeks to create.
  • Goals and Objectives: Setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that align with the mission.
  • Environmental Analysis: Assessing internal and external factors that may impact the organization’s ability to achieve its goals.
  • Strategy Development: Identifying strategies that will enable the organization to fulfill its mission and achieve its goals.
  • Implementation and Evaluation: Translating strategies into action plans, monitoring progress, and assessing outcomes to ensure continuous improvement.

A well-executed strategic planning process can empower nonprofits to navigate complex challenges, seize opportunities, and drive sustainable growth. By aligning their activities with a strategic plan, nonprofits can optimize their impact, strengthen stakeholder engagement, and effectively manage resources. With strategic planning, organizations can chart a course for success and make a meaningful difference in the communities they serve.

How Often Should Nonprofits Develop a Strategic Plan?

Ideally, nonprofits should engage in a strategic planning process every three to five years. This regular review and refresh of the strategic plan allows the organization to adapt to evolving circumstances and external factors, ensuring that goals and strategies remain aligned with the nonprofit’s mission and vision.

A strategic plan is not a static document but rather a living blueprint that should be continuously evaluated and adjusted to ensure its relevance and effectiveness. By regularly revisiting and updating the strategic plan, nonprofits can stay agile and responsive to the changing landscape in which they operate, maximizing their potential for long-term success.

During the strategic plan development process, nonprofits should involve key stakeholders, such as board members, staff, and community partners, to gather diverse perspectives and insights. This collaborative approach fosters buy-in and ownership of the strategic plan, increasing its chances of successful implementation and organizational impact.

By investing the time and effort to develop and maintain a strategic plan, nonprofits can proactively address challenges, seize opportunities, and lead their organizations towards sustainable growth and positive community impact.

Types of Nonprofit Strategic Plans

Nonprofit organizations require different types of strategic plans based on their unique circumstances and goals. Understanding these various models can help organizations choose the most appropriate approach for their specific needs.

1. Standard Strategic Planning Model

The standard strategic planning model is the most commonly used framework for nonprofit organizations. It involves the following steps:

  1. Define the mission: Clearly articulate the organization’s purpose and core values.
  2. Set short-term goals: Identify specific objectives that align with the mission and can be achieved within a defined timeframe.
  3. Create action plans: Develop detailed strategies and tactics to accomplish the goals.
  4. Establish timelines: Set deadlines and milestones to track progress and ensure accountability.

This model provides a structured approach to strategic planning, enabling nonprofit organizations to have a clear direction and focus on their mission.

2. Issues-Based Model

The issues-based model is particularly useful for nonprofits facing internal challenges that require strategic intervention. It involves:

  1. Identifying issues: Thoroughly assess internal challenges and potential roadblocks that hinder the organization’s success.
  2. Developing strategies: Strategically address the identified issues and establish action plans to overcome them.
  3. Implementing change: Execute the strategies and measure the impact of the changes made.

This model allows nonprofits to focus on specific organizational issues and develop targeted strategies to address them effectively.

3. Organic Model

The organic model is suitable for nonprofits operating in uncertain external environments where changes are rapid and unpredictable. It involves:

  1. Constant environmental scanning: Monitor the external landscape and identify potential opportunities and threats.
  2. Flexible decision-making: Adapt strategies and tactics in response to changing circumstances.
  3. Lasting revision: Continuously evaluate the strategic plan and make necessary adjustments to remain relevant.

This model allows nonprofits to be agile and responsive to external factors that may impact their operations and goals.

4. Real-Time Model

The real-time model is designed for nonprofits facing crisis situations that require immediate action. It involves:

  1. Assessing the crisis: Understand the nature and severity of the crisis.
  2. Developing emergency response plans: Create strategies and tactics to mitigate the crisis and minimize negative consequences.
  3. Implementing crisis management: Execute the response plans and monitor the situation in real-time.

This model enables nonprofits to address crisis situations promptly and effectively, safeguarding their mission and stakeholders.

strategic planning model for nonprofits

Strategic Planning Model Characteristics
Standard Strategic Planning Model A structured approach involving clearly defining the mission, setting goals, creating action plans, and establishing timelines.
Issues-Based Model Focusing on internally identified challenges and developing strategies to overcome them.
Organic Model Adapting strategies to respond to external uncertainties and changes.
Real-Time Model Addressing crisis situations with immediate action and responsive strategies.

Benefits and Importance of Nonprofit Strategic Planning

Nonprofit strategic planning offers numerous benefits for organizations seeking to achieve their goals and make a significant impact in their communities. By engaging in a comprehensive strategic planning process, nonprofits can experience the following advantages:

  1. Improved clarity of vision: Strategic planning provides a clear roadmap for the organization’s future, ensuring that all members are aligned on the mission, values, and long-term vision. This clarity of vision enables nonprofits to make informed decisions and prioritize activities that support their overarching goals.
  2. Increased organizational effectiveness: A well-developed strategic plan enhances the overall effectiveness of an organization by identifying and addressing areas for improvement. It helps nonprofits optimize their resources, streamline operations, and focus on initiatives that align with their mission.
  3. Enhanced fundraising potential: Strategic planning enables nonprofits to showcase their goals, objectives, and impact to potential funders. A concise and compelling strategic plan can attract donors, investors, and grants by demonstrating the organization’s strategic approach, outcomes, and impact.
  4. Aligned board members and staff: Strategic planning creates a platform for board members, staff, and volunteers to collaborate effectively. It ensures that everyone involved understands the organization’s strategic direction, goals, and their roles in achieving them. This alignment fosters a cohesive and motivated team, driving the organization towards success.
  5. Fosters innovation and risk-taking: A strategic plan encourages nonprofits to explore innovative and creative approaches to address challenges and seize opportunities. It provides a framework for experimenting with new ideas and taking calculated risks to stay ahead in a rapidly evolving landscape.
  6. Efficient resource allocation: Strategic planning helps nonprofits allocate their resources effectively by identifying priority initiatives and aligning budgetary allocations accordingly. This ensures that resources, such as time, finances, and personnel, are utilized in the most impactful and efficient manner.

Examples of successful nonprofit strategic plans can serve as valuable inspiration and guidance for organizations embarking on their own planning process. These examples can showcase strategic goals, objectives, and action plans tailored to specific nonprofit sectors or challenges. By studying and adapting from these examples, nonprofits can develop strategic plans that are relevant, effective, and aligned with their unique organizational needs.

nonprofit strategic plan examples

Benefit Description
Improved clarity of vision Provides a clear roadmap for the organization’s future and enhances decision-making
Increased organizational effectiveness Optimizes resources, streamlines operations, and focuses on strategic initiatives
Enhanced fundraising potential Attracts donors and grants by showcasing goals, outcomes, and impact
Aligned board members and staff Fosters collaboration, clarity, and motivation throughout the organization
Fosters innovation and risk-taking Encourages creative approaches, experimentation, and calculated risk-taking
Efficient resource allocation Optimizes the utilization of time, finances, and personnel


Strategic planning is a crucial tool for nonprofit organizations to achieve their goals and drive impact. By following the five steps outlined in this guide – defining your mission, conducting a comprehensive analysis, setting clear goals, developing strategies, and implementing and monitoring the plan – nonprofits can create a clear vision and actionable roadmap for success.

Regularly reviewing and adapting the strategic plan is essential to ensure its ongoing relevance and effectiveness in a rapidly changing environment. The strategic planning process should be treated as a continuous cycle, allowing nonprofits to remain agile and responsive to emerging opportunities and challenges.

With a well-crafted strategic plan, nonprofits can unlock their growth potential and make a lasting difference in their communities. Strategic planning provides organizations with the framework and direction needed to allocate resources efficiently, align board members and staff, foster innovation, and enhance fundraising potential. By investing time and effort into nonprofit strategy planning, organizations can set themselves up for long-term success and positive social impact.


What is strategic planning for nonprofits?

Strategic planning for nonprofits involves creating a blueprint that guides the organization towards its goals and objectives. It is the process of defining the organization’s mission, identifying important goals, and determining the strategies to achieve them.

How often should nonprofits develop a strategic plan?

Nonprofits should ideally engage in a strategic planning process every three to five years. This allows the organization to realign goals and strategies based on evolving circumstances and external factors.

What are the different types of nonprofit strategic plans?

Nonprofit organizations require different types of strategic plans based on their unique circumstances and goals. These include the standard strategic planning model, the issues-based model for addressing internal challenges, the organic model for uncertain external factors, and the real-time model for crisis situations.

What are the benefits and importance of nonprofit strategic planning?

Nonprofit strategic planning offers numerous benefits, such as improved clarity of vision, increased organizational effectiveness, enhanced fundraising potential, alignment among board members and staff, fostering innovation and risk-taking, and ensuring efficient resource allocation.

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