4 Approaches Nonprofits Should Take to Create Successful Strategic Plans
Strategic plans set organizational direction for the next three to five years, but just as important as determining organizational direction is first determining the direction of the planning process itself. It is critical to approach your strategic planning process with the same level of care and attention with which you want to approach the final plan.
Before you get started on the research, reflection, analysis and writing of the plan, consider these four key approaches to ensure not only your plan, but your process is compelling and engaging.
1. Define the Purpose
Many organizations undertake strategic planning for different reasons: the expiration of the current plan or absence of any plan at all, a new leader joining the organization, the stagnation of programs, etc. The justification for starting the planning process matters less than the purpose of the plan.
Strategic plans are meant to serve as guides to help achieve your mission. They are meant to push your organization to evolve and remain relevant. The best laid plans result from a clear purpose for the future, not a reflection from past efforts. Just because you’ve always had a plan, cannot be the reason for the next plan to exist. Why should this plan exist?
Before you begin drawing a new or revised strategic plan, spend some time defining why it is needed and what problems it will address. Centering the process on this purpose will help cut through the noise and offer a tangible concept around which to prioritize your work.
2. Select Active Participants
Nonprofits are quick to collect feedback on performance from their donors, employees, partners and service audience, but less commonly do we see ideas sourced from the communities served. Newer organizations continue to emerge around the idea of community-generated projects to great effect, but more established organizations have not quite caught up. This could be a result of emotional barriers preventing change, a lack of new ideas and perspectives, a hesitancy to change old processes or a myriad of factors.
Involving active stakeholders from diverse audiences is a simple way to move past this problem. They will often validate an organization’s role in the space and come equipped with a different point of view. This authentic engagement results in idea generation early on in your strategic planning process, and even if you scrap some ideas, you will have opened the door to explore new possibilities that are most relevant and critical to your work. Don’t wait until it’s been finalized to share your strategic plan. The best way to create buy-in is by being reflective and inclusive of other perspectives from the onset.
3. Integrate a Progress Measurement System
Starting with your goals in mind is critical. If you cannot define why your organization exists, you cannot begin to define the change that has occurred — or will occur — from your work. The best laid strategic plans take this a step further by also defining what metrics will demonstrate successful completion of those goals and integrate formal processes on how to measure the work.
This allows you to analyze the real-time effectiveness of any endeavor and adapt your strategy as necessary to ensure your objectives are met. Monitoring of progress brings intentionality to the strategies you have defined. Without it, you risk significant delays, divided staff and potential failure of the plan.
4. Approach Strategy With a Growth Mindset
It is important to generate revenue to execute strategies, but tunnel-visioning on revenue can hinder ambitions. A well-crafted strategic plan grounded in a strong purpose more than anything will enable an organization to demonstrate its value to existing partners and open doors to potential new supporters.
Organizations that do this well demonstrate the potential for the future and why it is needed. If your why is strong, and your plan is clear, funders will embrace your objectives as their own and join you throughout the plan’s execution. Donors give to support your vision for the future; this is the time to set one worthy of investment.
Strategic planning can be taxing, but it doesn’t have to be. By integrating these four approaches at the outset of your process, you will stay focused, create consensus, build accountability and push your boundaries. Ultimately, stakeholders will recognize a well-crafted plan with clear objectives and measures of success. Having that plan will propel you forward before you even begin working toward your goals.
As director of strategy, Brandon Emerson co-leads Orr Group’s strategy practice area. In his role, Brandon collaborates with clients to build actionable strategies that optimize their fundraising and organizational function.
Experienced in both organizational and departmental strategic planning, he is passionate about how maintaining a well-defined strategy will enable focus and growth. He takes pride in actively listening to stakeholder feedback to offer solutions that improve client organizational capabilities and offerings. He brings five years of experience in fundraising, strategy, events management and systems development.
Additionally, Brandon is responsible for facilitating consistently high-quality strategic thought and methodology execution across the firm to ensure that each client receives top-quality services that meet their unique needs.
Before joining Orr Group, Brandon was a member of the development team at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.