Late December is usually a time of introspection and planning in preparation for a new year. Perhaps you are a small nonprofit without a strategic plan in place and would like to create one for the new year. Here are a few ideas to launch this important process:

Why Have a Strategic Plan?

Every organization functions more efficiently and has a much better chance to achieve it stated mission with such a plan in place. This is especially true if it is updated every 3-4 years so as to stay current and relevant to constantly changing conditions every nonprofit faces.

Larry BirdEven a simple plan allows the organization to react better to opportunities and possibly predict future needs before they occur. Such predicting reminds me of a comment made by one of my favorite basketball players Larry Bird. When asked how he helped all of his teammates play so much better when he was on the floor he stated simply he focused on what was about to happen rather than what was already happening. This elevated his entire team to numerous championships.

Do Not Make It Complex

If you do not have a strategic plan in place, try to keep your very first one short and simple. Simplicity will allow everyone who is critical to your success to understand they key aspects required. Later on in future revisions, your team can add any missing components. Who knows, the basics you start with might serve your needs in the long term and keep everyone on the same page!

I have seen a few situations where a small organization tries to create a strategic plan suited for a national charity with hundreds of staff. The result is often a document nobody pays any attention to. Listed below are the basics to keep in mind.

Begin With Your Mission Statement

This is the reason your organization exists. In and of itself it should be a rallying cry for all those who touch it over time. As with the strategic plan itself, keep it simple and to the point. One short to medium length phrase should fulfill the need.

Hopefully, you will already have this in place and will not need to create or revise. The rest of your strategic plan should support this clear mission.

Specific Goals and Actions Are Next

This section should be comprised of mid-range and longer term goals for the organization. Goals of less than a year are wonderful. However, please consider them specific steps or actions of longer term goals.

The steps to these goals will be the actions needed to make them come to life. Keep them broad in nature so there is room for slight changes as needed during the execution. The more details you have here, the easier it will be to track the progress toward the achievement of your overall strategic plan.

Potential Obstacles

This is where the classic SWOT analysis might come into plan. Simply stated, you outline in the strategic plan your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. There may only be one item in each or there may be several to consider in the plan.

Discussing these items brings your team and board together in deciding what is impactful on the direction of the organization. Often times these discussions about a strength or weakness bring about breakthroughs in one manner or another. Such breakthrough thinking is what makes a strategic plan come to life.

My favorite part is such thinking often serves as a catalyst to board involvement. Such involvement by the board makes the entire organization stronger, which is not a bad byproduct of creating a strategic plan.

One final note on the SWOT analysis, opportunities can be a two edged sword. The team creating the strategic plan must be aware of just what funding and resources you have to use. Often times, resources and the timing of the funding determine what opportunities can be pursued. In addition, some opportunities may need to be slotted in for future years rather than being ignored.

Bringing It All Together

Remember this is your first strategic plan to be shared among many key constituents. I suggest keeping it to a single page or at most both sides of a page. The plan can provide a road map that can be quickly absorbed by everyone. Use it as a guiding light as you scorecard your progress moving forward.

The strategic plan will also serve as the “go to” source for aiding in many future decisions by you and your team. Keep asking yourself, does what we are about to do support or sidetrack us from the strategic plan?

Lastly, keep in mind the plan must be a living and changing document. A spectacular opportunity or a once in a decade gift may come along to cause the need to revisit the plan sooner than three to four years down the road. If so, embrace the chance to invigorate your organization via such a change.

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.