Nonprofit strategic planning can help your organization meet challenges effectively and take advantage of new opportunities. Despite the many benefits that strategic planning can bring, 49 percent of nonprofits lack a strategic plan.
Organizations that do have a strategic plan continually express the advantages that this type of preparation gives them. One study found that 86 percent of respondents believed that having a strategic plan positively impacted revenue generation through grants, donors, events and other avenues.
Whether you’re starting a new nonprofit, crafting an emergency plan to react to unexpected external circumstances, or creating your strategy for the next two to five years, this guide will help your nonprofit get the most out of its strategic plan. We’ll cover:
- Nonprofit strategic planning FAQs
- Types of nonprofit strategic plans
- Nonprofit strategic planning template
- 5 steps of strategic planning for nonprofits
- 7 nonprofit strategic plan examples
- How donor management and fundraising software can support strategic planning
Annual strategic planning is the key to unlocking your growth potential for the future. Let’s get started.
Nonprofit strategic planning FAQs
What is strategic planning for nonprofits?
Nonprofit strategic planning is the process of creating a blueprint that guides an organization for a specified time period and helps accomplish its goals. The strategic planning process involves reflecting on your mission to identify your most important goals and determining the strategies you’ll use to reach them.
A good strategic plan ensures you have charted the necessary pathways to meet (and hopefully exceed) your organization’s goals.
How often should you develop a standard nonprofit strategic plan?
Ideally, every three to five years, your board and staff directors will meet to realign goals and begin the strategic planning process. This plan is a living blueprint based on everyone’s ideas.
What are common misconceptions about nonprofit strategic planning?
When it comes to strategic planning, there are a few common hesitations that nonprofits voice throughout the process. Here are three misconceptions about the process:
- Our nonprofit should be focused on saving/generating money, not spending it.
- It’s a cliche, but it’s true — you have to spend money to make money. During the strategic planning process, you should identify areas to spend money effectively in ways that increase your fundraising return on investment. When you make strategic purchasing decisions, you can set your organization up to fundraise more productively than ever before.
- Our nonprofit shouldn’t take any risks.
- Your nonprofit shouldn’t fear experimentation — taking calculated risks fuels innovation and helps you reach your mission more efficiently.
- Volunteer boards should take charge of fundraising.
- We recommend that you don’t place board members in charge of setting strategic direction. The board should be tasked with providing oversight of your organization’s strategy, not setting the priorities themselves.
Learn more about common strategic planning misconceptions in this Bloomerang webinar:
How do you begin the nonprofit strategic planning process?
You’ll discuss measurable objectives for the team to reach and draft the priorities for each of these objectives. You may begin with a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. This can help you start defining goals and considering which strategic planning model will best work for your organization.
Types of nonprofit strategic plans
Different circumstances and goals will require different types of nonprofit strategic plans. Choose a strategic planning model based on your nonprofit’s current circumstances, opportunities and threats.
Carefully examine the following strategic model plans to decide which one will best suit your nonprofit’s needs:
Standard Strategic Planning Model
The standard strategic planning model, also known as the basic planning model, vision-based model, goals-based model or conventional model, is the most common nonprofit strategic planning model.
It’s best to use this model when your organization’s external surroundings are generally calm. When you start using this model, the economy is probably stable, your community and country are at peace and your organization is well-established in the community.
Generally, this model follows these steps:
- Define your organization’s mission and goals.
- Set specific, short-term goals you would like to reach to get you closer to those larger goals.
- Create a clear plan to reach short-term goals, including who is responsible for each goal’s success.
- Write these actions down and create a timeline to complete each one.
Here’s an example of what this would look like: Let’s say your organization is an animal shelter. In the next year, your specific short-term goal is to increase the shelter’s capacity by 50 animals and invest in the materials to do so.
To do this, your organization will need to increase fundraising revenue by $10,000 by finding new outreach opportunities and strengthening relationships with existing supporters to increase donor retention.
You may decide to ask one team member to post to social media every day to engage your online audience. Meanwhile, you may assign another person to call new donors to thank them and increase your new donor retention.
This model is the most common because the climate in which your organization resides is, more often than not, fairly stable. When it does become unstable, that means it’s time to switch to a different model.
Issues-Based Strategic Planning Model
An issues-based strategic planning model can be used when your organization’s internal operations are in more turbulent conditions. For example, if you’re undergoing frequent staff turnover, a change in leadership or are understaffed, you may find an issues-based strategic planning model to be the best choice.
This nonprofit strategic planning model helps organizations get back on track if they have strayed from the path to success.
To implement this strategic planning model, complete the following tasks:
- Brainstorm the elements that are holding your organization back from success.
- Decide how to address each of those elements to get your organization back on track.
- Carefully monitor your progress and adjust the strategy accordingly.
Consider the following scenario: Your nonprofit has limited staff and struggles to increase fundraising revenue. You may decide to address this by working with an external fundraising consultant or directing your staff’s attention to building relationships with your most engaged donors who are likely to increase their giving amounts.
An issues-based nonprofit strategic planning model is a living plan. Instead of setting it in stone, set check-in milestones and make adjustments based on your progress and results.
Organic Nonprofit Strategic Planning Model
The organic or nonlinear nonprofit strategic planning model is best when there are uncertain external factors that threaten your nonprofit’s situation.
Using this model, your team members will come together to solidify their understanding of the organization’s mission and goals. Each person then comes up with actionable next steps to help get closer to that goal by the next time the group meets.
Generally, putting this model into practice looks something like this:
- You and your team members go on a retreat to unify your understanding of the organization’s big-picture goals.
- Each team member examines their own strengths and decides on an actionable goal they can achieve based on that strength by a certain date.
- The team meets together again either quarterly or annually (or as frequently as you’d like) to discuss your progress toward each goal and mission impact.
For instance, you may find that one team member, Theo, is especially good at face-to-face communication on the retreat. He’s empathetic and understanding and would be a great candidate for holding meetings with major donors to build relationships with them. He may have a goal to leverage the information in your new donor database to foster relationships and grow major giving by 10% in the coming year.
This model never looks the same for two organizations. Each team member has inherent strengths, so this model is designed to help your nonprofit make the most of your unique strengths.
Real-Time Nonprofit Strategic Planning Model
The real-time nonprofit strategic planning model is useful when your nonprofit is in the midst of a crisis, like an economic recession or national/global catastrophe. The situation could also be limited to your organization. For instance, you might have been the victim of a cyberattack or your headquarters might have been severely damaged in a tornado.
This model relies on an extreme focus on short-term goals that aim to help you weather the storm. Your nonprofit staff members might meet as frequently as every week to discuss your progress toward these short-term goals. The model usually looks like this:
- Your organization frequently meets as a large group to define short-term objectives for individual team members.
- In these team meetings, you discuss whether you’ve met these goals, your day-to-day progress and any roadblocks your organization members face.
- After the crisis period, your organization takes inventory of the progress made or damage done, thanks team members for their hard work and creates a new strategic plan using a different model.
Consider the following situation: You discover that your nonprofit was the victim of a cyberattack that potentially left some donors’ information at risk. In response, you meet with your team to define and align on urgent next steps.
You assign several team members to assess the extent of the attack and summarize their findings into a clear report. Then, you designate other team members to notify impacted donors as quickly as possible about the breach. You outline the steps you’ll take to keep donors’ information more secure in the future and prevent future attacks.
As you can see, these goals are small and manageable in a short time. Goals are created as responses to the direct impact that external forces have on your organization’s internal operations.
Alignment Nonprofit Strategic Planning Model
The alignment nonprofit strategic planning model is best when your organization has great individual departments or team members but has trouble when it comes to communication between these departments.
This model tends to look something like this:
- Your team members meet to learn about the issues each individual faces in their position.
- You re-establish the common mission that everyone on your team is working towards.
- You outline tweaks that your team can use to improve internal communication processes.
For instance, say your organization has an incredible grant writer, an excellent executive director, a communicative and empathetic major gift officer and very capable fundraisers. However, they have trouble communicating with one another about the nonprofit’s goals and what each of them is doing to reach those goals. The result is discord among teams and a lack of progress.
In this case, consider ways to encourage teamwork between members. You may provide an overall fundraising goal for your fundraisers and major gift officer to work on together. Or, you may set up check-in meetings for everyone to meet with the executive director and ensure that the director knows what’s happening in each department and can prioritize their tasks accordingly.
The alignment nonprofit strategic planning model is a great way to set new communication standards and processes to incorporate moving forward as a team.
Nonprofit strategic planning template
Before you dive into the strategic planning process, it can be helpful to know what type of plan or report you’re going to end up with. Generally, strategic planning forms look similar to this:
This template outlines all of the essential planning steps that we’ll review in the next section. Here is a high-level overview of what your plan should include:
- Your organization’s mission statement. Your mission statement should dive into why your organization exists. What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? How are you different from other organizations? This statement should use precise language but non-finite verbs. This leaves it open for continuous improvement and development of your mission; it will never be complete but always be a work in progress.
- Your primary goals and specific objectives within those goals. Identify priorities for the types of programs and services you’ll offer to support your goals, target audience for your services, target supporter audiences, advocacy and public policy aims and branding or marketing objectives.
- Who is responsible for each objective and what activities they will complete to work toward the objective. You’ll assign each team member a clear role in the process and outline the tasks they will complete that support your overarching goals.
Let’s take a closer look at how to develop each aspect of your strategic plan.
5 steps of strategic planning for nonprofits
Use these steps to launch the strategic planning process:
1. Set fundraising targets
Use your organization’s budget to determine generally how much you need to raise to achieve your philanthropic goals. Then, outline the strategies you’ll use to acquire that funding.
For example, you may decide to raise:
- 50% of funding from individual contributions to your annual fund
- 20% of funding from your planned giving, legacy and endowment programs
- 20% of funding from corporate giving programs
- 10% of funding from grants
Every nonprofit will have a different breakdown of their fundraising goals based on their current fundraising initiatives and their community’s giving capacity.
2. Get input from key stakeholders
Next, ask your stakeholders for input about your fundraising goals. Provide context for your goals and philanthropic objectives, explain how each will impact your mission, then ask for feedback about the plan.
The different stakeholders you should reach out to include:
- Board members
- Staff members
- Key corporate and community partners
- A fundraising consultant
Running the plan by everyone will help you make sure that the goals you’ve set are achievable and manageable for your team.
Stakeholders might raise the alarm if your fundraising amount is drastically different from last year or if you’re relying on strategies that have been ineffective in the past.
For example, let’s say your nonprofit has a good track record with grant writing. You’ve won 80% of the grants you’ve applied for, so you decide to dedicate a large portion of your fundraising revenue plan to be raised using grant money. Seems reasonable, right?
Well, your grant writer may bring up the valid point that you’ve only been that successful because you’re incredibly picky about the type of grant you apply for. While the percentage looks impressive, there aren’t enough grants out there to meet the goal you’ve set. This is great insight and enables you to switch up your strategy to be as successful as possible.
3. Determine your key fundraising and marketing strategies
You may consider doing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of your past fundraising to better understand what areas you’re already strong in and what could be improved.
This chart can help you outline your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats clearly and concisely:
Some of the fundraising and marketing strategies your organization should take into consideration include:
- Major gift fundraising. Major gift fundraising likely makes up a large portion of your proceeds. If it doesn’t already, this is one area of your strategy you’ll want to improve.
- Donor-centric stewardship. Donor stewardship leads to better retention rates and better fundraising results down the line. This ties in well with your marketing strategy and ensures you’re communicating regularly and effectively with donors.
- New donor acquisition and retention. The second donation a donor gives is the “golden donation” because most donors lapse after the first gift. After the “golden donation,” there’s about a 60% chance they’ll give again.
- Online fundraising. While more revenue probably comes from in-person conversations with major donors, most of your donors probably prefer to give online. It’s convenient so long as your fundraising page is well-optimized.
- Peer-to-peer fundraising. Peer-to-peer fundraising is a great strategy to attract new donors while raising additional funds from your committed supporters. Leverage the power of your social networks to raise funds using this avenue.
- Monthly giving. Recurring gifts are essential because they’re a consistent source of revenue. If someone sets up a recurring gift, you can probably count on that gift being given for an extended period and account for that in your future budget.
Assign areas that need improvement a lower fundraising target than the aspects of your strategy where you already know you’re strong. This way, you can try out different strategies to make these elements stronger without as much pressure.
For example, if you know your nonprofit has an incredible major giving program, specify that a larger portion of your fundraising will likely come from this avenue. If you know that you could use improvement on your new donor retention rates, you might set that at a lower goal and use this as an opportunity to try out new things like calling new donors and setting up a welcome email series.
4. Establish SMART objectives
When you set your fundraising goals, make sure they’re SMART:
- Specific: Target a specific area for improvement
- Measurable: Quantifiable
- Attainable: Achievable based on your past successes
- Realistic: Reasonable based on your available resources
- Time-based: Aligned with a specific time frame
For example, let’s say you have a specific goal for increasing individual contributions to your annual fund.
Here are a few examples of SMART goals that target this objective:
- Acquire 500 new donors through your online fundraising page within a year.
- Call 100% of the new donors who give within 90 days of their gift.
- Acquire 200 new donors through a 2-week peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
- Expand your monthly giving program by 100 donors within a year.
- Retain 70% of donors from last year.
These goals include specific numbers and time frames to help orient your strategic planning around quantifiable metrics.
5. Choose tactics to support each objective
Use reporting tools in your donor management system and marketing platforms to help keep your team accountable for reaching your goals.
Assign each team member an individual role that they’re responsible for. Here’s an example of a chart that clearly defines each activity, the staff member accountable for the task and the deadline:
When everyone is clearly aware of their role at the organization and how their actions will impact the mission at large, you’ll make sure everything gets done. Plus, everyone will have a sense of purpose as a part of the team.
In addition to assigning team member roles, you can also automate certain processes to free up more staff time. For example, if you used to send out the monthly newsletter manually or personally manage every social media post, consider investing in new marketing software as part of your strategic plan.
Ask yourself some of the following questions.
- What areas of our work do we need more time for?
- What can we automate?
- Who at our organization has repetitive tasks that take time away from more important activities?
Sometimes the answer to these questions leads you to invest in new nonprofit software like a new CRM to automate donor engagement efforts or volunteer management tools to streamline volunteer scheduling.
7 Nonprofit Strategic Plan Examples
Here are links to some strategic plans from other nonprofit organizations for you to analyze and consider while you plan your own:
The Denver Foundation is a community nonprofit foundation committed to strengthening the Metro Denver area.
The organization’s 2021 strategic framework was written to provide guidance for a decade — a longer period than a typical strategic plan. This extended time frame means the document is intended to be a living, flexible blueprint that will evolve as the community’s needs change.
The strategic plan is outlined in a user-friendly online booklet that clearly displays the organization’s mission, vision, purpose and values. It also details new policies, such as a new donor management approach, priority service areas and the organization’s business model.
This represents an example of a more far-reaching plan that will help the organization develop a long-term approach to reaching its mission.
The Girl Scouts organization provides programming and leadership training for girls in communities across the country and worldwide.
Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles outlined a strategic plan for 2022-2023. On the online web page, the organization points out five strategic priorities. This helps interested readers get a quick overview of the organization’s most important plans before diving into the full report.
In the complete plan, each priority also includes information about specific initiatives to support the goal and the intended outcome of each objective. This helps audience members understand the actions they should expect to see from the organization over the coming months.
Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to provide affordable housing to families in need around the globe.
The organization’s Australian branch published a strategic plan for 2021-2024 that aligns a vision for the country’s programs with the organization’s overarching international activities.
The plan also includes a visually-engaging strategic pyramid that depicts how the strategic plan fits into Habitat for Humanity’s purpose, mission, vision and principles. This can help readers visualize how each element of the strategic plan is like a puzzle piece that helps build the full picture of the organization’s efforts.
Boys & Girls Club of America is dedicated to providing enriching after-school programs for kids and teens. The Metro Atlanta chapter’s 2021-2025 strategic plan outlines plans to reach more kids, grow their supporter base and improve diversity and inclusion.
The plan includes five main focus areas, each with a few specific objectives, along with specific quantifiable goals. The plan also incorporates a timeline chart depicting when each goal is projected to be completed.
This level of specificity is essential for staying on target and reaching goals effectively.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a U.S. government agency established to make mental health and substance abuse help and resources more readily available.
The organization’s 2023-2026 strategic plan is oriented around four guiding principles: equity, trauma-informed approaches, commitment to data and evidence and recovery.
The plan includes plenty of data and research to explain why each principle was chosen. It also highlights five priorities for this three-year period that will help bring each principle to life.
The Nature Conservancy’s mission is to promote worldwide conservation efforts. The Pennsylvania and Delaware Chapter released a strategic plan for 2022-2024 that illustrates how the chapter will take local actions to support the overarching mission.
The plan is organized into sections based on strategic priority or geographic location. Critically, it includes information about how the chapter will scale up its conservation efforts and how donors, partners and volunteers can support each effort. This brings supporters into the conversation and helps them envision the steps they can take to have an impact on the mission.
UNICEF is a United Nations Agency devoted to providing humanitarian aid to children worldwide.
The 2022-2025 strategic plan starts with an informational overview of the progress that has been made along with challenges that children face around the world. Next, the plan details strategic shifts that the organization is currently taking, along with five goal areas.
The plan ends with a detailed roadmap chart of each principle and objective and the target completion dates.
How donor management and fundraising software can support strategic planning
Donor management and fundraising software (like Bloomerang!) can offer plenty of support throughout your entire strategic planning process. Here are just a few of the ways you can use integrated donor management and fundraising software to streamline your planning:
- Review data analytics and reports to understand your nonprofit’s current fundraising and donor engagement situation. Use this information to understand what’s going well and where there is room for improvement.
- Set goals and assess progress made toward them. Using your software, you can establish goals and assign team members to take charge of each task.
- Improve your supporter outreach. Strengthen donor and corporate partnerships throughout your strategic planning work by using your donor management software to create communication segments and campaigns.
- Identify prospective major or recurring donors. With a donor management platform like Bloomerang, your CRM will automatically identify highly engaged donors who are likely to upgrade their giving amount or frequency.
Interested in seeing what these activities look like in practice? Schedule a Bloomerang demo today for a personalized look at how our nonprofit software solutions can support your organization’s strategic plan.
Don’t just check off the “strategic plan” box for your nonprofit. Instead, use the information and resources in this guide to create a comprehensive and valuable plan that you’ll use to grow your organization.
Want to learn more about effective planning and nonprofit management? Check out these additional resources:
- The Essential Guide to Writing a Fundraising Plan. Your nonprofit’s fundraising approach will be greatly influenced by your strategic plan. This resource will help you develop a clear fundraising plan to support your strategic planning.
- Online Fundraising | Ultimate Success Guide + Tips and Ideas. Your strategic plan should outline your digital fundraising initiatives for the years ahead. Use this online fundraising guide to amplify those efforts!
- 16 Top Donor Management Software Solutions (+ Buyer’s Guide). Donor management software can help provide insights that fuel your strategic plan. This guide highlights 16 donor management solutions to consider.