For any business to succeed, it needs a clear idea of what it aims to do and how it’s going to achieve this. A nonprofit is no different, and while you’ve probably put together a business plan to get your nonprofit up and running, you need a strategic plan to outline how to achieve the organization’s goals.
Business Plan vs Strategic Plan
A business plan outlines and defines your business. It explains what you do, how you’re organized, and how the business is financed. It should include:
- A marketing plan that clarifies your product or services, your target audience and how you’re different from the competition.
- An operational plan that describes the human and physical resources you need to achieve your goals.
- A financial plan includes projected income and expenditure, how you plan to raise funds, and your fundraising goals.
Your nonprofit’s financial plan should also show that you can at least cover your operating costs and build up and sustain healthy reserves.
Part of your plan should also be a sustainability plan that looks to the future and considers how to survive significant events such as leadership changes, negative media coverage, or the arrival of a new competitor.
A strategic plan contains all of the above but goes into more depth about how you plan to achieve your business goals over the coming years. It includes an action plan which details specific activities, those responsible for carrying out the actions and due dates for their achievement and how this success is measured. Sharing this plan with all stake holders increases transparency and accountability, and regular meetings at which the action plan is monitored help ensure all are working together in the best interests of the nonprofit and the communities it serves. The following guidelines help you develop a workable strategic plan.
Strategic Plan in Action
There are several stages to a strategic planning process, and before you start action planning, you need to do some groundwork. Getting a grip on your nonprofit’s health, shortcomings and potential barriers to success is an important part of the planning process. Carry out an environmental scan helps you understand the environment you’re operating in, the opportunities it provide and the constraints it imposes. This includes your community and how they interact with you, and emerging trends in your field of work, as well as the wider political, economic, social, and technological factors, known as a PEST analysis that might have an impact on your plans. Take a look at the competition and how they’re succeeding. How can you emulate their success but maintain your USP?
A SWOT analysis is another useful tool that helps you examine your nonprofit’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Whereas an environmental scan makes you look outwards to consider how to react to external factors that are often beyond your control, a SWOT analysis encourages you to look inwards and consider those things you can control, such as the skills mix of your key personnel, the quality of technical equipment. Do you have the core competences necessary to deliver on your promise and, if not, what do you need to do to bring about success?
Values, Vision, Mission
Armed with these perspectives, bring your board members and leadership team together to identify and agree the basics. You might ask yourselves the following questions:
- What are the core values that you all share, that drive you to take action?
- What is your vision for how the world should be if you can bring about the necessary changes, and how will your activities transform lives?
- How can you capture what you want to do in a clear and memorable mission statement?
Once you’ve established your values, vision and mission, you have a clear foundation for strategic planning.
Strategic Goals and Planning
Before pulling together your action plan, the next task involves determining your strategic goals and measurable outcomes, and the actions to deliver these successfully. As a leadership team, you might look into the future and agree on up to five transformational outcomes that you’re committed to achieving. Action plans should clarify each outcome, the steps that can ensure it’s achieved, and the individual with ultimate responsibility for implementing the actions.
An additional section might include measurable steps along the way. So, if your fundraising manager is responsible for raising a certain amount of money in one year, an expectation to raise part of the amount within six months can help measure whether you’re on track.
Sharing, Reviewing and Calibrating
Once your team agrees on a strategic plan, present it to your board for their approval and agree to deliver progress updates at future meetings. This ensures everyone is up to speed with the plan and brings greater accountability to all involved. In a fast-changing work, a degree of flexibility and realism is essential. There’s no point in doggedly hanging on to outcomes that are no longer achievable, possibly through events beyond your control. The key is to be aware of the issues and calibrate your plans to better meet the new challenges.
A strategic plan provides a framework that explains why your nonprofit exists, its goals, and how it aims to achieve them. The plan is not set in stone and can be adapted to suit changing circumstances. Getting your board, employees and stakeholders to buy into the plan ensures everyone’s on the same page regarding your nonprofit’s vision.