Strategic Planning for the Non-Profit Sector

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For nonprofits, a strategic plan is a roadmap toward the organization’s goals.

A strategic plan is an essential tool for nonprofits. A thorough, comprehensive plan establishes the organization’s direction and develops a roadmap for reaching its goals.

“The purpose of strategic planning is to understand more about your organization’s stakeholders, clarify your mission and values, ensure your relevance to those that you serve, and develop a vision for the future,” according to Bloomerang, which offers donor management and fundraising software.

Establishing a consensus among stakeholders, providing a clearly articulated foundation of the organization’s purpose, and outlining a quantifiable framework for growth is a task that falls well within the scope of public administration.

“The key to your mission is ensuring the satisfaction of your stakeholders both internal and external, folks such as your clients, your community partners, funders, government, etc., and you must view everything through the lens of your stakeholders including your mission, values, and vision,” Bloomerang adds.

Ohio University’s online Master of Public Administration with a concentration in Non-Profit Management can help students develop strategic planning skills as well as other proficiencies necessary for leadership roles in the nonprofit sector.

What Is a Strategic Plan?

A strategic plan defines an organization, identifies its goals, and outlines the steps necessary to achieve those goals, the Free Management Library (FML) notes. According to FML, strategic plans should be:

  • Customizable: One-size-fits-all plans don’t work. Organizations are different and should consider their particular needs when developing a plan. “Don’t be concerned about finding the ‘perfect way’ to conduct strategic planning,” FML notes.
  • Adaptable: Timelines vary as well, depending on the complexity and types of services the nonprofit offers. The Washington Nonprofit Institute, a support group for nonprofits, provides a sample strategic planning document outlining a six-month process.
  • Measurable: Every strategic plan should have measurable goals and specific timeframes.
  • Implementable: Plans should be incorporated into the day-to-day decision-making process.
  • Actionable: Strategic plans should drive actions, not gather dust, according to the National Council of Nonprofits. “If no one refers to the plan after it is completed, then it’s hardly serving as a ‘strategic’ guide!” the council notes.
  • Updateable: Priorities change. Administrators and other participants in the planning process should understand that strategic plans may need to be updated.

Strategic Planning Process

Consultants often play a role in nonprofit strategic planning, and diversity among participants is crucial to every step of the process.

“Studies have also shown that a more diverse staff can foster enhanced innovation,” according to the National Council of Nonprofits. “And when board members, employees, and others who shape the values and activities of a nonprofit come from a wide array of backgrounds, they each bring unique perspectives that shape, blend, and influence how to advance the nonprofit’s mission and solve problems in potentially more inclusive and innovative ways.”

The process involves four essential components — preparation, listening, planning and evaluation:

  • Preparation: Effective planning requires gathering information and determining expected outcomes. Key tasks include locating documents, including previous or existing strategic plans, mission statements, annual reports and budgets.
  • Listening: Gathering information from a variety of internal and external sources, both written and verbal, is crucial. Consultants can help ensure impartiality and openness among participants. Administrators may also consider holding retreats.
  • Planning: Review the results from the listening and preparation stages and use that data to develop a plan with specific goals. For instance, perhaps you want to increase corporate donations by 10% over the next fiscal year. Or, you’d like to plan a new event for high-dollar donors. Set measurable milestones for each goal and delegate staff to be responsible for them. Continue listening, if necessary, and revise the plan until it is ready for implementation.
  • Evaluation: Roll out the plan. Take note of feedback from stakeholders and staff. Keep track of how the plan fits with the organization’s function and mission and use that information for the next strategic plan update.

The strategic planning process empowers nonprofit administrators to draft snapshots of their organizations, offers precise measurement for evaluation of mission and services, and provides flexible blueprints for success.

The process also encourages:

  • Identification of goals and objectives
  • Development of clearly defined mission statements
  • Innovative information gathering and analysis
  • Consensus building
  • Efforts to align budget priorities with strategic plans

Strategic planning is vital for nonprofit administrators. A degree from an online Master of Public Administration program such as the one at Ohio University can help graduates develop the insight and skills necessary to lead goal-focused organizations with long-term visions for success.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program

Ohio University’s online MPA program is dedicated to preparing professionals for a career in public administration. Through the university’s prestigious Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, students learn effective communication skills through targeted public administration and communication classes while also building skills in policy, finance, leadership, business, management, and communications. The school occupies the No. 12 spot in the SR Education Group’s 2019 Best Online Colleges Offering MPA Programs ranking.

The program, which is 100% online, offers three concentrations: Public Leadership and Management, Non-Profit Management, and State and Local Government Management. Students can finish their degree in as few as two years. For more information, contact Ohio University now.



5 Ways Key Constituents Can Play A Role in Nonprofit Strategic Planning: Bloomerang

Free Nonprofit Micro-eMBA Module 6: Developing Your Strategic Plan: Free Management Library

Strategic Planning for Nonprofits: National Council of Nonprofits

Sample Timeline/Workplan for Strategic Planning: The Washington Institute for Nonprofits

Why diversity, equity, and inclusion matter for nonprofits: National Council of Nonprofits