SEE ALSO: Business Plan
January 31, 2014
A successful plan is, by definition, a usable plan–one that informs the organization’s activities as well as its long-range view, and one that yields meaningful improvements in effectiveness, capacity and relevance.
A strategic plan is a tool that provides guidance in fulfilling a mission with maximum efficiency and impact. If it is to be effective and useful, it should articulate specific goals and describe the action steps and resources needed to accomplish them. As a rule, most strategic plans should be reviewed and revamped every three to five years.
The planning process offers a nonprofit’s decision makers a rare opportunity to step back and look at their organization as a whole. It is a time to connect the dots between mission and programs, to specify the resources that will be required to deliver those programs, and to establish performance measures that allow everyone to understand whether the desired results are being achieved. As a result, it encourages strategic thinking, not only while the plan is being created, but also thereafter, as implementation leads to new challenges and the need to make new decisions and tradeoffs.
A basic model of strategic planning process might look like this:
Vision, Mission, Values
Vision (the dream)
Your vision communicates what your organization believes are the ideal conditions for your community – how things would look if the issue important to you were perfectly addressed.
Mission (what and why)
SEE ALSO: Mission Statement
The mission statement describes what the group is going to do, and why it's going to do it. Mission statements are similar to vision statements, but they're more concrete and "action-oriented" than vision statements.
SEE ALSO: Value Statements
Values that are important to key stakeholders in the organization – staff, board/volunteers, members and community. A values discussion brings to light major gaps between stated values and what really goes on in an organization. The strategic planning process provides the opportunity to develop actions that will improve the alignment between key values and actual behavior. 
Environmental Scanning/SWOT Analysis
SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis helps an organization break down the internal forces at work (their own strengths and weaknesses) and the external opportunities and threats that face them in the marketplace.
Strengths are the resources, capabilities, core competencies, and experience that could be used to develop a competitive advantage, or a better position in the marketplace than their competitors.
Weaknesses are things that the nonprofit should possess in order to create a competitive advantage, but happen to lack. They can also be the flip side of a strength, such as a nonprofit that has a large staff (strength) but whose large staff makes it difficult to be flexible towards changing program requirements (weakness).
Opportunities are external realities that could result in greater social impact, profit and growth for the organization.
Threats are situations that have the potential to diminish the organization’s social impact/profitability/growth.
From SWOT to Strategy
SWOT analysis gets you nowhere if you don’t take the most important next step, which is to craft strategies from the results.
- Strength-Opportunity Strategies that use the organization’s strengths to go after external opportunities.
- Weakness-Opportunity Strategies that overcome a nonprofit’s weaknesses in order to go after external opportunities.
- Strength-Threat Strategies that harness a nonprofit’s strengths in order to overcome its vulnerability to external threats.
- Weakness-Threat Strategies that create a defensive plan for preventing the nonprofit’s weaknesses from making it susceptible to external threats.
You may want to consider using a facilitator from outside of your organization if:
- Your organization has not conducted strategic planning before.
- For a variety of reasons, previous strategic planning was not deemed to be successful.
- There appears to be a wide range of ideas and/or concerns among organization members about strategic planning and current organizational issues to be addressed in the plan.
- There is no one in the organization who members feel has sufficient facilitation skills.
- No one in the organization feels committed to facilitating strategic planning for the organization.
- Leaders believe that an inside facilitator will either inhibit participation from others or will not have the opportunity to fully participate in planning themselves.
- Leaders want an objective voice, i.e., someone who is not likely to have strong predispositions about the organization's strategic issues and ideas.
Resources & Sample Documents
Free Management Library: Template for a Basic Strategic Plan Document
Free Management Library: Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning
National Council of Nonprofits: Strategic and Business Planning for Nonprofits
Stanford Social Innovation: The Strategic Plan is Dead. Long Live Strategy.
Association for Strategic Planning: Nonprofit Strategic Planning
Insights In Action: The Values Statement
Environmental Scanning/SWOT Analysis
The Center for Association Leadership: The Basics of Environmental Scanning
Information Research: Environmental scanning as information seeking and organizational learning
FireSpring.org: How to do a nonprofit SWOT Analysis
Social Velocity.net: SWOT Analysis