nonprofit strategic planning

2020 has been a year for the ages. Not only are we dealing with a global pandemic, but also civil unrest, a shrinking economy, partisan politics, and environmental disasters, leading to uncertainty about 2021. Not only does this create unease in our personal lives, but also professionally, and across all industries. This unease has never been felt more acutely than in the nonprofit sector. The nonprofit sector has always been deemed as the “safety net” but it has become more apparent that the safety net needs its own safety net. Many nonprofits are struggling to maintain revenues while minimizing unplanned expenses due to 2020 events. Not only are nonprofit professionals (who continually have to strive to do more with less) becoming crisis managers, but you might be serving more people in need as well as trying to figure out how to best navigate these uncertain times.

In conjunction with Bloomerang, we will focus on four different topic areas and explore how nonprofits can build a path towards sustainability right now. Is this a quick fix? Not a chance. Is this a way to provide insights into looking inward to find organizational resources that build capacity? Yes.

The first topic we are going to explore is nonprofit strategic planning. This is a big term and can mean many things. Let’s break this down a bit more so we can review different areas of the planning process.

But first, there is an elephant in the room: Someone said they don’t have TIME for strategic planning! Did you know that you can create time? Everything you can possibly do falls into one of four categories concerning importance (high and low) and urgency (high and low). Important tasks are those related to the long-term vision of your organization. Focus on those tasks that are high in importance and low in urgency. Manage those tasks that are high in importance and high in urgency. Limit those tasks that are low in importance and low in urgency. Avoid those tasks that are low in importance and high in urgency. That is how you prioritize what you do and create time to do important things like nonprofit strategic planning. 

Now that you have some time, let’s focus briefly on four areas of nonprofit strategic planning

1. Stakeholder Involvement

Be sure to include your key stakeholders in your nonprofit strategic planning process. Key stakeholders should not only include your program staff, leadership team, and board of directors, but also your volunteers, clients, supporters, and relevant community members. This is now the time to collaborate and build bridges to discuss shared challenges, accomplishments, and engage in brainstorming discussions about the organizational changes impacting staff and who you serve. 

2. Needs Assessment

Together with your organization’s mission statement and its vision for the future, the collection, and analysis of data is required to develop a needs assessment. This data collection should be done in conjunction with those key stakeholders. Data includes all information that is relevant to the envisioned future state. You should include information about your organization’s programs, operations, and finances, and other organizations that serve similar clients in your location, relevant census information, and information from focus groups and surveys. With the data collected, it needs to be analyzed. What stands out? What is the step or series of steps that will bring your vision of the future closer to reality? Summarize this information into a needs assessment document (which can serve as the basis for updated strategic priorities and/or strategic plan). 

3. Organizational Reset

Have you noticed that in this new environment some businesses are thriving while others are struggling? A new environment means new business possibilities. Could earned income supplement your nonprofit’s donations and provide a source of unrestricted funds? Can you leverage partnerships to co-locate programs or share in-kind expenses? Four business models have proven to be successful for nonprofits and may be considered for potential next steps: 

  • Service Subsidy Model: In this model, the nonprofit conducts a business on the side while simultaneously delivering services to clients who cannot pay the full load. 
  • Direct Service Model: In this model, the nonprofit offers two levels of services. Clients who choose to pay for the upper level of service subsidize clients who choose to pay for the lower level. 
  • Microfinance Model: In this model, the clients are independent businessmen and women, who need microloans at attractive rates of interest to provide a product or service to the market. 
  • Partnership Model: In this model, the nonprofit and clients are in partnership. They go together to the market with a product or service. 

4. Priority Setting

When the process is done correctly, there will be multiple possible paths forward for the organization. How should you prioritize among the various paths? Are there some paths that need and could share common resources? Could you partner with a different organization in your area rather than start a whole new program? A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threat) analysis could give further insight into which path(s) should have priority. 

While these are the building blocks to better understand your organization and prepare for the future state of the world, there are other ways in which you can gather information to enhance your capacity. In future blog posts we will explore your financials, leveraging social media, and building your board of directors. What will be your next step to overcome these challenging times?

This post was co-written by Rachel Werner and Loren Dill of RBW Strategy.

Today Loren has his feet firmly planted in two worlds, STEM and Social Impact. He studied chemistry at Houghton College, where he earned a BS degree, and chemical engineering at the University of Rochester, where he earned MS and PhD degrees. Loren began his career as process engineer at The Upjohn Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but soon a love of writing developed within the company’s corporate library. Coupled with a desire to return to research, this love of writing led to his first federal proposal and a postdoctoral position at the NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. He later had the opportunity to write research proposals for corporate and academic clients, raising more than $500 thousand in the process. In 2010, Loren learned that refugees were coming to Cleveland and needed someone to help them overcome culture shock and adapt to their new culture. Loren volunteered to mentor them. Later, this interest developed into how to create social impact more broadly. In 2015, he earned a certificate in Social Impact Strategy from The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. In 2017, Loren and two medical doctors co-founded the nonprofit Les Amies De Gaëlle in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Loren is an active member in the Grant Professionals Association, Rotary, and Toastmasters. Past clients include the University of Akron and California State University Bakersfield. Loren recently joined RBW Strategy as an associate.

Loren lives with his wife in Bay Village, Ohio. 

Nonprofit Sustainability

Rachel Werner, MPA, GPC, PMP
Rachel Werner began her career as a New York City public-school teacher which parlayed into a two-decade career of work in the public sector. She has served as a nonprofit fundraiser/grant writer, grants manager at an education management organization, and management consultant overseeing federal government contracts. Since the beginning of her career, her firm has helped to secure over $40 million in funding from government, foundation, and corporate sources, and has managed over $2 billion in grant funding. She studied at Vassar College and received a Master's in Public Administration from New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. She has also obtained a Certificate in Grants Management (2012), is a certified Project Management Professional (since 2010) and is a Certified Grants Professional (since 2014). Rachel is an active member of the Grant Professionals Association and Association of Fundraising Professionals, and regularly conducts in-person and online trainings at national and local conferences.
Rachel Werner, MPA, GPC, PMP

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