A Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning
Imagine how history might have changed if Martin Luther King, Jr. had said, “I have a strategic plan”, instead of his famous words, “I have a dream.” What are your organization’s dreams for the future?
On the practical side, are you worried about the future? What are the critical issues you face? Have you taken the time to think big and think real about where your organization will be in one year, three years, five years? Does your nonprofit have a shared vision and a roadmap for getting there?
Lynne Dean, Director of Institutional Advancement at Northwest Vista College, recently joined us for a webinar in which she shared the key elements in a successful strategic planning process. In case you missed it, you can watch a full replay here:
Steven: Well Lynne, I’ve got 1 o’clock, do you want to go ahead
and get it started?
Lynne: Let’s go for it.
Steven: All right. Cool. Good afternoon everyone, if you’re on the
east coast, good
morning if you’re on the west coast or somewhere in between.
Thanks for joining us for today’s webinar: “A Guide to Nonprofit
My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m a VP of Marketing here at
Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion. And today
I’m very pleased to introduce our guest; she is Lynne T. Deane,
CFRE. Hey there, Lynne. How’s it going?
Lynne: Hey. Things are great. How are you?
Steven: Good. Thanks for being here. This is going to be a lot of
fun. For those of you
who don’t know Lynne, she currently serves as Director of
Institutional Advancement at Northwest Vista College.
That’s one of the Alamo colleges in San Antonio, Texas. She’s
talking to us live from San Antonio today. She also works with
the Alamo Colleges Foundation, which oversees fundraising for
those five colleges in the district.
She’s worked as a capital campaign consultant. She actually
started her own consulting firm, that’s Deane and Associates, in
2006. She manages capital campaigns; she’s helped nonprofit
organizations with campaign readiness, feasibility studies,
board training, foundation and grant services and major gift
So she’s done it all. She’s actually the immediate past
President of the Plan Giving Council and San Antonio chapter of
the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning and she oversees that
chapter’s membership program also. She has also served on the
AFP International communications committee and the host
committee for the previous 2014 AFP International Conference.
So if you were there in San Antonio a couple of months ago,
Lynne was part of that. So if you liked it, be sure to tell her
and congratulate her for that. She has received her CFRE. She
has her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of
Texas at Austin and has also completed some special studies in
So Lynne, great to have you; this is going to be fun. You’re not
just a consultant who is just a pundit, you’ve actually done all
the things that you’re going to talk about today so it’s really
cool for you to be here.
Lynne: Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here and hello to
Steven: Let me do one piece of housekeeping, Lynne, before you go.
Just so everyone
knows, we are going to have a Q&A session at the end. So as
Lynne is presenting, be sure to send any questions her way. You
can chat in any questions in that chat box there on your screen.
We’ll both see those and we’ll try to answer as many questions
as possible before the 2:00 eastern hour. We’d like to save some
time for questions so don’t be shy. Do send some questions our
And I did want to mention, we were originally going to have
Linda Lysakowski join us as a co-presenter but her husband has
fallen ill. She’s actually at the hospital bedside with him now.
So she won’t be joining us today unfortunately, so we certainly
send our well wishes their way and hopefully you can do the
But Lynne is here. She’s got a great presentation and Lynne I’m
not going to take any more time away from you. So fire away.
Lynne: Thank you so much. Again, I’m really thrilled to be here
and I’m so sorry that
Linda could not join us and we’re all keeping her and her family
in our thoughts and prayers.
One of the things that I wanted to share with you is that I love
strategic planning and planning is important because it offers
so many opportunities for an organization.
First, it is a way that you can change your organization from
being reactive to proactive. And if done well, strategic
planning can really bring people together to talk about your
organization’s future. And secondly, strategic planning helps
you develop a common vision.
The process really helps you build consensus for an appropriate
strategic direction among stakeholders. And the third reason,
strategic plans often lay the groundwork for development plans
and these two plans, especially the development plan have a
major impact on sustainability.
If done well, strategic planning can extend your mission to many
more people and improve the performance of your organization and
of course we’re all looking for that.
Strategic planning can be either long-range or short-range but
most importantly strategic planning is a process. It’s a road
map for your journey to success and it works best when it is
customized to fit the culture of your organization.
It brings all team stakeholders into the mix and doesn’t really
give anyone the ability to opt out. The process drives everyone
to build consensus and support the direction of the
So who should be involved in all of this wonderful planning that
you’re going to do with your organization? Well, each
organization really needs to decide for themselves who should be
involved in strategic planning. A good suggestion is to include
representatives from all your various stakeholders.
We’re going to take a quick poll right now. Would you let us
know and chat in your answers if you have a strategic plan? I’m
going to pause just a little bit to give you a little bit of
time to answer.
Oh, we have a lot of yeses. That’s always a good sign. And a few
no’s; great, thank you so much. It looks like a lot of people do
have strategic plans but they do have some concerns, so I’m glad
that you’re here today.
Who are your stakeholders? I mentioned stakeholders earlier.
That’s a very diverse group including the board of directors,
your leadership group-which probably includes your executive
director and key staff members-others, such as your
representative partners, donors and also the users of your
services. Your volunteers should also be represented in this
Many organizations like to appoint a planning committee to
oversee the process and that’s a group that we call the planning
cabinet. This group can include about five to eight people and
their job is to help move the process forward and monitor
progress along the way.
But this number of people that you get involved in your
strategic planning process needs to be a balancing act. It is a
balancing act. Too much involvement by too many people can make
the process a little cumbersome but there’s also the danger of
having too little involvement by too few people.
You may miss important perspectives. A key issue is letting
those with an array of different perspectives into the room for
Talking about the stakeholders at NVC, I want to tell you a
little bit about our college. Northwest Vista College is one of
five Alamo colleges in San Antonio, Texas.
We’re a community college that was established in 1995 and we
held classes in all campus sites until Phase I of our campus
construction was completed in 1998. Our campus is located on 137
beautiful acres in northwest San Antonio and features several
buildings which overlook a man-made lake.
I hope you’re getting the picture here. The lake uses recycled
water and it’s home to ducks and turtles.
In 2009 we completed construction on an additional five
buildings including a library and resource center, performing
arts center, a student support services building and two
additional classroom buildings with laboratory space.
And last summer we added something really important, a parking
garage, which has alleviated a critical shortage of parking
spaces at the campus.
NVC is designated as a Hispanic serving institution and we are
also very environment friendly and a smoke-free campus. In
strategic planning at NVC we involve a broad range of
That includes representatives of our business council, key
faculty and staff members, donors, representatives from the
district level, students, as well as community members.
So, you’ve got all your stakeholders. How do you get buy-ins?
Remember this word: participation. Participation is key. Be
inclusive in getting stakeholders involved. Be sure that you
have an open and transparent process. Keep the lines of
What are the major components of a strategic plan? Generally,
plans include the mission vision and values, a strategic
direction and goals. For each of the goals you will want to
identify measures of success or what we sometimes call strategic
metrics, strategies for achieving those measures and action
Each action step should include the cost or budget, the person
responsible and a timeline.
At NVC, each year that we participate in strategic planning, the
first item on the agenda for the day or for the planning process
is a review of our mission, vision and values and these items go
in a separate document.
Our strategic plan document includes our objectives, strategies
to achieve these objectives and organizational action plans.
These action plans include the budget needed, the person or
group responsible and a timeline for completing this step. All
of the action steps for our strategic plans are included in the
workgroup action plan.
I’m sure you’ve probably heard of the SWOT analysis. In
nonprofit organizations as well as regular businesses this is a
common term. Internal and external factors combine to determine
an organization’s strategic issues.
SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and
threats. This is a key part of strategic planning because it
examines the organization itself and the external and future
environment of the organization.
Strengths and weaknesses refer to the organization itself. They
are similar to assets and liabilities. They are current, that
is, they exist now. Opportunities and threats exist outside the
organization and they refer to the future.
I’m going to take another quick poll. Have you and your
organization done a SWOT analysis? Please chat in your answers.
Great. There’s a real mixture, several, it’s pretty much 50/50
Goals are broad-based and should be developed by your board and
your staff together.
Your goals will seem to kind of emerge and become apparent
during the planning process as you identify areas of weakness
and opportunities for improvement. You can select from a number
of different areas as you establish your goals.
You may want to focus on programs and services or on finances,
including income and expenses on your facilities or perhaps
human resources, including your board, staff and volunteers.
Goals should be set by participants in the planning process. The
number of goals that you set is really up to you but we have
found that most organizations work well with three to five
And here’s a big question, how do you know you have the right
goals? You will learn whether or not you have the right goals as
you get into the implementation of your plan.
It’s not really uncommon for plans to change during the term of
the plan and you will also need to identify, how will you know
that you are successful? How will you measure success?
Our current strategic plan at NVC covers 2010 to 2015 and just
to be clear, we use slightly different terms at NVC than Linda
and I use in our book that we’re writing on nonprofit strategic
At NVC, we use the term “objectives” to refer to our main goals.
When the 2010 plan was first developed, NVC established three
objectives: learning, completion and sustainability.
Most organizations actually have three to five objectives which
are developed in their strategic planning process by
participating stakeholders. But how do you know you have the
Well, when you visit your existing strategic plan during an
annual review and participants agree that the original
objectives accommodate the talent that you are placing right
now, that’s how you know that you have the right objectives.
A way to assure that you have appropriate objectives is to make
certain that you can measure success in achieving your
objections. Objectives must be SMART. That’s an acronym for
Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-
Strategies are the ways that organizations accomplish the
objectives they have identified. As you outline your strategies,
think about the people that can help, any technologies that you
might need and what resources you have available.
When you take the time to help everyone understand the big
picture and to see how their roles and work connect to those of
others you will be making a huge contribution to the success and
progress of the implementation of your strategic plan.
You and your team will probably find that it makes sense for
some action plans and changes to start before others. Careful
planning enables you to outline the route you will take to
achieving the impact you envision and to set the stage for
progress to come.
At NVC, the work group action plan plays a critical role in the
implementation of our strategic plan and in accomplishing our
objectives. For example, the group action plan in which I am
involved is called improving student’s financial resources and
funds for operation.
This is part of our strategic objective of sustainability.
Remember, that’s one of those three main strategic objectives I
mentioned earlier. Our strategy is community and partnership
development. Our organizational action plan is to engage
In our work group we have, myself, our college president and
our scholarship coordinator and our alumni coordinator. Our
action plan charge is to increase revenues for scholarships and
programs from foundation fundraisers.
What about Action Steps? One of the reasons, and the biggest
reason that action plans do not get implemented is that the
planning group hasn’t taken the time to answer what we call the
big three questions.
Who is responsible for implementing this step, when will it be
done, how much will it cost and how much will it raise? At NVC,
our action plans are implemented through the activities of our
work group action plan and also through individual action plans.
Both of these plans answer those big three questions by
outlining who’s responsible, the timeline for getting that
action item completed and the cost, as well as how much might
need to be raised. Individual action plans are also used and we
use them in our annual performance evaluation.
What about the Planning Retreat? Most planning processes involve
at least one or more half-day, full-day or two-day retreats.
During these sessions, board members, stakeholders and staff all
gather to work on the big picture theme, the vision, values and
mission as well as goal setting.
Choose an interesting and fun location for your retreat, not
your own meeting room. Your planning cabinet can determine who
should be included in which area of the retreat.
A facilitator can ensure of objectivity and have the ability to
keep the group on track. And there are several options regarding
facilitation. You can use a staff member with expertise in
strategic planning, using a staff member from another nonprofit
organization who has planning experience.
You can use a volunteer or you can work with a professional
facilitator. You will need to decide what will work best for
your organization and what will work within your budget.
At NVC the planning retreats have taken place at different
locations. We’ve used two hotels near our campus and also we’ve
had retreats on campus in a large meeting area.
The theme of our strategic planning is our mission: creating
opportunities for success, either one full day or two half days,
such as two mornings, and food is always part of our retreats.
Our agenda includes reviewing an updated environmental plan,
developing our SWOT analysis and then developing our key
strategic challenges and advantages. We look at new strategy
themes and ensure that our strategic plan accommodates the
challenges that we identify.
Brainstorming and discussion are a large part of our strategic
planning process. At NVC, this process is led by the college
services quality initiative unit and specifically by the NVC
Vice President of College Services in collaboration with the
college president, both of whom serve as facilitators.
What about plan implementation? Once the plan has been developed
and officially adopted, the focus then turns to implementation.
In almost every organization that achieves success implementing
a strategic plan, we see two very common threads. Implementation
really does seem to run more smoothly when a nonprofit has what
can really best be described as a change mindset.
Additionally, the organizations that are successful use
practical, step-by-step approaches to translate strategy, goals
and objectives into very tangible actions.
These organizations continue to monitor progress on their
actions and alter the direction or course of their journey when
the environment in which they operate changes in some way.
The plan should serve as a guide, creating departmental plans,
the planning cabinet also assists in monitoring progress on the
plan and may make periodic reports on the plan’s implementation
to the board.
As I mentioned earlier, implementation takes place at NVC
through our work group action plans. Our planning chair is the
vice president of college services who collaborates with our “E”
team, which consists of the executive leadership of NVC.
We measure progress by the outcomes that we achieve and if we
get off track we have what we refer to as an OFI, better known
as an Opportunity For Improvement.
What about measuring success? Remember those measures of success
that we mentioned earlier? They will really tell you how you’re
doing along the way and indicate any areas which might need a
little more attention.
During the implementation of the plan you will need a
assisting the person who will be responsible and
involved in the work, timelines, as well as resources and the
budget needed. Somebody has to monitor the budget and somebody
has to do all the tracking.
Celebrating Success, this is really my favorite part. Remember
to celebrate achieving your goal. Very rarely do organizations
take the time to truly acknowledge the success that they have
achieved when they complete a plan.
So, you completed the plan. Yay! That’s great. Stop. Celebrate.
You can generate even more enthusiasm for the next planning
cycle by spreading a sense of fulfillment and closure at the end
of your current plan.
What about updating the plan? There are several factors that can
indicate that you need to update your plan or maybe even develop
a new plan. These factors include funding, competitions, be they
internal or external and leadership. Think about the answers to
these next questions.
Are there changes in the types and levels of support from your
funders? Are there new competitors or potential collaborators
entering the areas in which you have been operating?
Are there new internal or external policies creating
opportunities or challenges that might have an impact on what
you can achieve as an organization? Or, do you have a new CEO or
executive director or a new and dramatic change in the board
All of these factors can indicate a need to update the plan or
develop a new one.
At NVC, we update our plan on a yearly basis and as I mentioned
earlier our plan covers 2010 through 2015. So how do you keep
everyone up-to-date on your plan? It’s crucial to measure
progress on the plan and we recommend the planning cabinet
provide reports to the board on at least a quarterly basis.
Also, keeping your work group action plans or individual action
plans or whatever tracking you currently do up-to-date is a way
that you keep everyone up-to-date.
And what do you do if things go awry? The role of a planning
cabinet is really to ensure that individuals and teams
responsible for implementation of the plan are on task.
Benchmarks should be in place to enable you to monitor progress
of the plan and when things get off track the planning cabinet
should ask the individual or team responsible what can be done
to help the plan get back on track.
We’ll stop here for questions.
Steven: Cool. That was great, Lynne. Thanks so much. Really great
information there; I
think you’ve got people thinking with some questions that have
come in. So we’ll just kind of roll through those.
We’ve probably got about 15 minutes for questions so if you were
wondering anything or maybe sitting on your hands at the time
we’ve got Lynne here. She’s an expert on strategic planning.
She’s here to answer any and all of your questions for the
remainder of our session.
So Lynne, we’ve got one here from Mary Jo. Mary Jo is wondering,
does the SWOT analysis, the goals and objectives, do those
surface at the retreat? When do you actually look at those
things? When do you sit down to figure and look at those?
Lynne: You can do this whatever way you feel is best for your
organizations choose to do the SWOT analysis prior to the
retreat. The goals and objectives, however, should be discussed
at the retreat.
Steven: That makes sense. So I was wondering something, as you
were talking. You
know, you used NVC as kind of your case study, which is great.
I’m wondering, did you guys get anything wrong?
Were there any stumbling blocks specifically that you see that
maybe you learned from or that kind of helped you develop or
hone this process?
Any examples from the whole NVC process, that maybe you can
think back on and say “Hey, we didn’t do a great job at that,
but we did learn a lot from it?”
Lynne: Well, we have an excellent Vice President of College
Services, who handles and
oversees all of our strategic planning, and I have to say, I
think we do a really good job of strategic planning.
We’ve had a number of external factors that have had an impact
on our direction but I think that generally, we seem to be
moving in the right direction. In addition to that, we also
coordinate well with the district.
Steven: Cool. We’ve got a question here from Kaelin. Kaelin, I
hope I’m pronouncing that
correctly. They’re wondering, do you have a template for the
quarterly report to the board.
Is that something that you have a template for that maybe folks
can use or what does that actually look like? What’s that
content kind of look like? What all is in that document?
Lynne: That’s really, generally, an update. It can be a Word
document, it can be in an
Excel spreadsheet that includes your action plan. You can
actually have your action plan worksheets and use them as the
template for the quarterly report to the board.
At NVC we actually complete our work group action plans on a
quarterly basis and those are presented to our strategic
planning vice president.
Steven: Cool. We’ve got a question here from James. James is
wondering about the
location of the retreat, I think.
“Do you have creative ideas for locations? They are on a tight
budget,” he says. “What are some ideas of places that they could
do this and not spend a whole lot of money in the process?”
Lynne: Well, one of my favorite locations that we had a retreat-I
was working for
another organization-and we held our retreat at a museum. And a
lot of times museums are very willing to work with you and let
you have a meeting room free of charge, so I think that’s
something to look into. Libraries are also good resources.
You might even want to look at some of the city facilities like
recreation centers. You might have a meeting room that might be
willing to let you have it either on a complementary basis or
maybe at a very low cost.
Steven: Cool. That was a good idea. I hadn’t thought of that.
Great. Mary Jo here is
wondering, is the mission statement and vision statement done
before the retreat or at the retreat and if so, how is that
done? What’s a good timing for that, in your mind?
Do you think that that should actually be all the people in the
room at the retreat working on it or should it maybe be done a
little bit beforehand, kind of like the SWOT analysis?
Lynne: That’s a good question because the answer really depends
on where your
organization is in its growth cycle. If you’re a new
organization, then yes, you probably will be working very
closely on the mission and vision statements during your
strategic planning process.
If you’re a more established organization, then you probably
will be looking at that at the beginning and if the majority
opinion agrees that the mission and vision is working then
that’s really an indication that you don’t need to devote any
more attention to the mission and vision phase.
But if there’s consensus that those statements need some work,
then you can definitely make that part of your retreat.
Steven: That makes sense. Here’s one from Walter. Walter is in the
process of setting up
action committees comprised of three staff members and three
board members to bring their organization back on track.
Walter is wondering what would you suggest would be a good place
to start for those groups? What should they talk about maybe in
their first few meetings? What should they tackle first?
Lynne: I think if there’s a strategic plan in place they need to
look at that and probably a
SWOT analysis would be a really good place to start.
It’s not uncommon for organizations to do a SWOT analysis in the
middle of a strategic plan to really take a breath and pull back
for a few minutes and look and see where they are, if there is
some environmental factor, is there something internally that’s
happening that is having an impact on the organization.
Steven: That makes sense. Well cool, I think some questions are
still coming in, but
Lynne, while people are sending in maybe their final questions,
I want to give you a chance to talk about your book.
I know you’re really busy and somehow you’re also finding time
to write a book on top of it. Where can folks learn more about
you and the work you’re doing in your practice?
Lynne: Well, I am just so excited that Linda Lysakowski and I
have been working on this
book on nonprofit strategic planning. I have to be honest, Linda
was the one that got me into this.
I have just thoroughly enjoyed working with her and really
bringing together all the information that an organization needs
to develop a nonprofit strategic plan.
And this is the kind of book that you’re going to be able to
look at this book and go through it and have all the information
at your fingertips and you will be able to develop and put into
place your own strategic plan.
Steven: You’ve got a special offer for the book, it sounds like?
Lynne: Yes, yes. The book, we have finished our manuscript and we
have, the Foreword
of the book is written by the President and CEO of the San
Antonio Area Foundation, Dennis Mills.
We’re real excited that he agreed to write the Foreword and so
that’s going to be included in the book, and it should be
released hopefully this summer.
So what we want to do is if you would like a 15% discount on the
book when it comes out all you need to do is just send me an
email or send Linda an email and we will notify you when the
book is available and we will give you a discount code.
Steven: Cool. And I’ll definitely include your email address in my
email a little bit later so
folks can take advantage of that. So, we’ve got some good
questions coming in if you have a little bit more time to stick
around and answer some of them, we can roll through them.
Lynne: Yes, yes. I’d be happy to.
Steven: Cool. Mary Jo is wondering about vision statements. Do
they change for each
plan that you do?
For example, in the next three years they want to tackle certain
issues. They want to increase student and funding opportunities.
So you go through this process and kind of edit those mission
statements every once in a while or do you just kind of do one
and stick with it for the long term? What do you think about
Lynne: It’s been our experience that mission and vision
statements don’t change very
frequently unless there has been a real shift in what the
organization decides, what the main issues that the organization
wants to handle.
I would think that the mission and vision statements, except for
organizations that are still in their growth cycle, I would
think that the mission and vision statements really tend to
remain relatively constant.
Steven: Can you think of an opportunity when someone would change
it, I mean short of a
radical shift in the organization, mission or plan?
Lynne: Yes. I think if an organization has really been more
focused on something like
crisis management or some particular audience or client and then
they want to shift more into prevention or some other aspect of
service, then definitely the mission and vision is going to
Steven: But there’s not any sort of, I mean this is not a really
good reason to change it
every three years, just to update it, you don’t think it should
be updated just for update’s sake necessarily?
Lynne: I don’t think so. In our experience, we really haven’t
found a lot of organizations
that make drastic changes to their mission statements.
Steven: Cool, that makes sense. I’ve got one here from Martha.
component of our strategic plan is brief,” she says. “The board
is wanting to jump right into a development plan. Should they
update the strategic plan first or can the development plan
replace a section of the strategic plan? What do you think they
should do there?”
Lynne: I think you can jump right into working on the development
plan because the
strategic plan is really the big overview of your organization
with your goal.
The development plan is more of a strategy and an action plan
for a cost for raising the series to accomplish to goals in your
So the development plan can be done and can actually be
something that replaces that part in the strategic plan or
actually it should be separate. The development plan is really
separate from the strategic plan but it evolves from the
Steven: That makes sense. Well cool, I know we did a lot of
questions. We went a little
over time. I know I wanted to keep this to about a half-hour or
so. I appreciate you sticking around and answering some
questions. Is it safe to say that folks can email you if they
think of anything else? Would that be okay?
Lynne: Absolutely. I would love to hear from everyone.
Steven: I knew you’d say that. You’re so nice. Well cool then,
this was a lot of fun.
Thanks for batting solo, I know you didn’t expect to do that
today but great information. I definitely enjoyed it. Hopefully
everyone else did.
We do do these webinars once a week. We’ve got a great one
coming up next week. We’re going to have Sandy Reese as our
guest. She’s going to talk about your first fundraising
So maybe if you’re a small nonprofit or a new nonprofit and
you’ve never done a full-blown fundraising campaign.
You’ve got to register for this webinar. She’s going to show you
how to do it. But check that out.
We’ve also got some really cool webinars coming up in July that
you can check out on our webinar page there. They’re totally
free, totally educational, so if you see something there, please
do register. We’d love to have you back next week and in the
weeks that follow.
So this was great, Lynne. Thanks again. I’ll say a final thank-
you to you and thanks to everyone for joining us, for taking
about a half hour to 40 minutes out of your busy day.
You will be directed to a little survey form after the webinar.
Please do fill that out. Let me know what you thought. I curate
all these webinars so I’m always interested in feedback.
You won’t hurt my feelings. I don’t think you’ll hurt Lynne’s
either, so do fill that out if you have a few minutes.
Lynne, thanks again. Enjoy the rest of your day in San Antonio.
Hopefully it’s not too warm down there.
Lynne: Oh, well thank you. I really enjoyed this. It was fun.
Steven: Yeah, it was fun. I will be sending the slides and a
recording shortly, so look for
an email from me later on this afternoon.
So with that, I’ll say thanks and so long. We will talk to you
next time. Have a great rest of your day.