The term “strategic plan” might make a few cringe and shake their heads. To some, strategic plans have become a waste of time because they ultimately end up in someone’s drawer.

Others view a strategic plan as something that is nice to have, as though it were an accessory, not a necessity, to the business.

But those who do recognize the value in a strategic plan and know how to create an impactful working document (or hire someone who knows how) have reaped the financial benefits of putting the time and resources into the task.

What is a strategic plan?

First, a strategic plan is NOT a wish list of your goals and objectives. Instead, it is an active, living document, which makes it a strategy, rather than a dream.

A strategic plan helps you prioritize your nonprofits’ needs, goals and objectives while setting you up for success. It will help your organization to focus on its mission, values and vision to achieve its goals.

Strategic plans are designed to highlight growth potential and look for solutions to challenges. While they do reveal flaws, those areas can be fixed. Strategic plans provide a positive foundation to move your organization in the right direction. They will help you understand how and where you need to pivot.

A good strategic plan includes objectives and the goals to reach them; timelines; responsibilities and the persons involved; fees and costs; questions to ask and answer; expected outcomes; and how you measure those outcomes. It also involves research and data collection, SWOT analysis and clear definitions.

You should have a general strategic plan for the nonprofit organization, and the plan can be modified for individual fundraising projects, using information from the overall organization’s strategic plan, which will save you a lot of time.

What are the benefits of a strategic plan?

Strategic plans help secure funding and resources. Funders look for this key element when nonprofit organizations apply for grants. They want to know what your plans are, how you are organized and your projected goals to make sure you are financially stable.

The strategic plan’s main purpose, though, is to help your organization maintain its focus and be a guide for its direction. It helps you target the right funding opportunities, whether grants, fundraisers, or sponsorships, so that you are not chasing unrealistic financial dreams. In other words, you will save yourself a lot of headaches by avoiding targeting and applying for funds for which you are not a good fit.

What are the challenges in developing strategic plans?

A challenge for some organizations when it comes to developing strategic plans is that they are too understaffed to handle this internally. Strategic planning takes, well, planning, which translates into a lot of time and resources.

In addition, everyone has to be on board with the strategic plan. The nonprofit board members, leadership and staff should all agree that this is a necessity and be eager to ensure its success. If the organization is partnering with other community organizations for a particular project, then the other organizations need to be supportive and willing to assist as well.

Depending on how detailed you want your strategic plan to be, who is involved, how many people you need to interview to collect data and the number of goals you want to achieve, it could take a few weeks to a few months to finalize.

If developing a strategic plan in-house is overwhelming or your organization does not have the bandwidth, a third-party consultant can help you achieve your organization’s objectives and keep you on track by developing it for you.

Why do you need a strategic plan?

A good strategic plan helps alleviate a lot of the unnecessary stress that is built upon an unorganized mindset. There are better, more effective ways to build income and financial stability. If the current and old ways of doing things are not working and are adding to the overwhelm, then it is time to change.

Clear communications and relationships DO matter. The goal for the organization is to build and nurture relationships, as well as work together to create a better outcome for the community. Strategic planning helps achieve this goal.

Do you need a strategic plan? You might ask yourself:

  • Is nurturing strong relationships with our top donors a priority?
  • What do we do to continue nurturing those relationships?
  • What is our ratio for grant applications approved versus grant applications applied for?
  • Is our grant rejection rate higher than grant approval rate?
  • Do we typically target funding sources on the smaller side (e.g., less than $1K) versus on the larger side (e.g., $50K, $500K, $1 million-plus)? Why?
  • Do we have regular fundraisers that are successful and help us grow or merely keep our doors open?
  • Are we constantly asking for money or are donors coming to us?

Whatever project your organization needs, such as grant funding, a campaign feasibility study, a development audit, a communications audit or a fundraiser, it should not begin without a strategic plan in place

Don’t overlook the importance of this plan to help you stay focused, get you on the correct path, and help you track data and successes. This is what will help you increase your funding, grow your organization and lessen your stress.