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Why Having A Strategic Plan Is Vital For Your Nonprofit's Board

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If you serve as a board member on a nonprofit board of directors, or if you are an executive director that works with board members, then these nonprofit board challenges might resonate with you.

I’ve served on many boards and have worked with many nonprofit board members. I often hear of two common challenges that board members face: implementation issues and fundraising burnout.

Board of Directors Challenge #1 Implementation Issues

One of the biggest qualms I hear from board directors is not knowing exactly how to reach the mission and vision of the nonprofit organization. As in, “Yes, we understand there is a vision, but how do we get there?”

Oftentimes what ends up happening is that the board continues to just ask, “Well, what did we do last year?”

Regardless, if it meets the vision of the nonprofit or not, or the current circumstances, the board may continue to do the same old thing and add a little bit more.

Because if you keep doing the same thing, but add a little more energy to it, it’s a good thing, right?

Not exactly.

What board members commonly do is to write out all the activities that raised money for the nonprofit in the previous year. Then they add larger funding goals to each activity.

For example, last year the nonprofit raised $400,000 in total from doing the following:

  • 5K fundraiser raised $40,000
  • Annual dinner gala raised $100,000
  • 5 grants raised $250,000
  • Giving Tuesday Campaign raised $10,000

For the new year, the goal might be to raise $620,000:

  • Annual 5K fundraiser to raise $60,000
  • The annual dinner gala to raise $120,000
  • Write 10 grants to raise $400,000
  • The Giving Tuesday Campaign to raise $20,000
  • Start a new donor program to raise $20,000

This is actually a good strategy at face value, but unless it takes into consideration the following, it will flop (even if it helps you reach an immediate financial goal):

  • what the current needs are of the organization
  • what the current capacity is 
  • what resources exist


If current needs, capacity, and resources are not considered, then you won’t be able to implement all of your amazing activities at the new level.

And it leads to challenge number two.

Board of Directors Challenge #2 Fundraising Burnout

The other challenge I frequently hear board members ask is, “How can we reach sustainable funding streams without getting burned out?”

Board members quickly realize their capacity level and that they can only do so much to meet above the $620,000 goal.

So what do many board members do? 

They put fundraising on the shoulders of the executive director and nonprofit staff — delegating everything out.

Once again, this approach does not take into account the current capacity of the organization. 

Doing more might not be the answer at all.

In fact, doing more often leads to executive directors burning out at a quicker rate. Currently, nonprofit executive directors only stay in their position for 18 months often stating burnout as a major cause. 

It is important then to not do more necessarily, but to do the right things with the right input. 

That’s where strategic planning for nonprofits comes into play.

To overcome these challenges, let’s include some basic elements of strategic planning.

#1: Review your Mission & Vision Statements and Values

Firstly, understand that it is vital to not only look at finances and growth as success markers for a nonprofit organization.

Getting funding for your nonprofit is great, but it can be disastrous if that funding causes your nonprofit to mission drift

The first step in strategic planning is to analyze the mission and vision of the nonprofit and to see if your activities are meeting that vision.

If not, it’s time to evaluate if your nonprofit’s activities or mission statement needs to be updated

Additionally, be sure to list out the values of the nonprofit. Your values will help drive the priorities of the nonprofit organization. 

For example, if a value is inclusiveness, then be sure to invite your executive director and staff to the strategic planning meeting!

#2: Conduct a SWOT Analysis

Secondly, it is vital to do a SWOT analysis so that you can really understand your nonprofit organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. 

This is one of the most important key pieces in strategic planning that will guide your nonprofit’s goals and activities. 

Remember, we can’t just add more things to do to meet some abstract financial goal. A SWOT will help you leverage what is working and address what isn’t.

By conducting a SWOT analysis your board will really understand what the current capacity is of your nonprofit organization. 

Your nonprofit’s weaknesses can help provide a roadmap on what is important to focus on. For example, some weaknesses could include staff feeling burned out, not able to get board engagement for making decisions, and not having maternity leave as a benefit.

These would be good activities to focus on that might not be only financially beneficial, but could lead to a savings of retaining an executive director.

These types of realizations can then help you understand what goals might be helpful for your nonprofit so you can reach your mission and vision.

#3: Conduct Resource Mapping

Thirdly, your nonprofit board can then lay out your resource mapping. 

Find out what resources you have available:

  • People resources
  • Partner resources
  • Funding resources

On your original list (before your strategic planning) your board members may have thought writing five more grants this year is a great solution. But after the resource mapping, your board might find out that to write more grants you need to either hire a grant writer or take some things off your grant writer’s plate so they can focus on writing more grants.

Resource mapping will help your nonprofit’s board understand how realistic their financial projections are because it will map out the resources available to meet the demand.

#4: Set Specific Goals & Activities

Fourthly, you can then set your specific goals and objectives for the year. Maybe your board realizes the 5K fundraiser actually took a lot more work than the payoff. With that information, garnered through your SWOT analysis and resource mapping, your board then plans to host a volunteer appreciation day instead of the 5K fundraiser.

Why a volunteer appreciation day?

Because during your SWOT analysis your board found out that the strength of your nonprofit was the help of volunteers, but a weakness was a high churn rate of volunteers. Additionally, when you analyzed all the work that volunteers did for your nonprofit, it saved your nonprofit a lot of money because it eliminated the need to hire certain roles. 

#5: Create a Funding Plan

Fifthly, and finally, create a Funding Plan for your nonprofit. At this stage, your board has identified resources and the capacity of your nonprofit, and has set goals and objectives. 

Your board can now set a realistic financial goal (which might not be $620,000) and activities that meet the needs, resources, and capacity of your nonprofit organization.

Another bonus is that by conducting strategic planning, your board will get more buy-in from the executive director and staff because they feel heard.

Remember, as a board member it is your job to guide the nonprofit organization as a whole. Do your due diligence to really understand and commit to strategic planning because when you do your board will avoid the most common challenges that boards face: implementation issues and fundraising burnout.

Feel free to visit for more information on strategic planning, grant writing, and freelance grant writing. 

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