Strategic Planning for Nonprofits

BoardroomNonprofits are often strapped for time, budget, volunteers and staff. This reality, especially for extremely small and nimble organizations, can make the process of annual strategic planning seem like an impossible feat. However, pragmatically approaching the strategic planning process is absolutely critical for maximizing limited budget and staff bandwidth. It keeps a nonprofit focused, especially if the tendency is to regularly undertake new programs and services because everyone’s passion for the cause is unending.

Four Points Nonprofits Should Consider Annual Strategic Planning

  1. Involve the board: Involve a board early and work with the board president and appropriate committees to host a full or half-day strategic planning session. This step ensures the board is bought-in from the outset of the year on programmatic and fundraising priorities. It’s also critical for the executive director to be 100 percent honest and upfront with the board about what he/she needs from them—additional fundraising strategies, new board members, more board support at events, etc.
  2. Engage pro bono legal counsel: Have any new laws, licensing or other legal restrictions been introduced in the field that impact daily operations? For example, does the passing of Amendment 64 add a layer of drug testing procedures for staff and volunteers? Compliance with new laws and regulations can place a tremendous strain on time and financial resources. Utilizing pro bono legal counsel at the outset of a year can help an organization avoid costly issues down the line.
  3. Evaluate the past: Review the successes and failures of the year prior – preferably with the board – with the goal of making sure every single program and offering of the organization still aligns with the mission statement and purpose of the organization. Did a service get added that does not truly serve your core audience? Has an event morphed from its original purpose and no longer moves the needle with your donors? Now is the time to address such issues instead of simply following the status quo for
    another year. Tough decisions may have to get made, but in the end cutting a program that no longer aligns with the organization’s mission is beneficial to staff, volunteers, funders and the people being served.
  4. Take care of staff: The men and women who dedicate their lives to nonprofit organizations have huge hearts, and almost always put their constituents well ahead of their own needs. Did anyone take a vacation last year – for more than just a day? If not, what can be done at the organization level to support staff and their personal needs outside of the job? The long-term health of a nonprofit, especially in fields with high burnout rates, depends on its people. Staff are the lifeblood of these organizations.

It can feel daunting to step away from urgent day-to-day operations but developing an annual strategic plan after considering the above points will make a lasting impact on the health of the organization long-term.

If you work for a nonprofit, or serve on the board of a nonprofit, how do you approach this process and what other recommendations do you suggest such organizations keep in mind throughout the planning process?

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