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Make a greater social impact with strategic planning at your nonprofit

Planning out a strategic shift

For many mission-driven organizations, strategy is a four-letter word. Nonprofit leaders are mired in the daily operations of their agencies, and their hearts are invested in the work that they do. It can be difficult to see beyond the day — let alone the week or year — to focus on a long-term strategy for financial sustainability.

While strategic planning isn’t always easy, it is always worth your time and effort. More importantly, it merely takes a simple mindset shift for nonprofit leaders to envision how strategic planning can help their organizations thrive.

The current strategic planning landscape

Agility. Rapid design. Innovation. Planning for the future while adapting to ongoing change affects decisions made by all organizational leaders. You’ve most likely heard the term VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. This is the landscape in which you are operating your nonprofit. By forecasting future and predicting emerging trends, for-profit organizations use strategic planning as a means to remain competitive. Strategic planning provides the insights necessary to anticipate and prepare for impending change, differentiate products and services from competitors’ offerings, and increase employees’ stake in the organization’s future.

It’s all about impact

If you struggle to think about your agency with this traditionally for-profit mindset, focus instead on the power of impact, particularly the need to showcase the ways by which your agency is fulfilling its mission. Pat Walsh, chief impact officer and founder of the digital fundraising platform, Classy, says, “The ability to measure and articulate impact is critical for organizations that want to build meaningful relationships with their supporters. We’re already seeing forward-thinking organizations in the sector pioneering new ways of conveying the impact of their programs in a real and tangible way.”

Strategic planning is one key to showing how your organization solves real social problems in a meaningful way.

Additionally, strategic planning helps nonprofit leaders to align existing programs and resources with overall business goals. One of the greatest requirements of funders, board members and other stakeholders is to define how you will use your resources in the immediate and long-term future. A carefully planned strategy is the path to such alignment and allocation.

Redefining strategic planning

We envision a nonprofit future where business acumen isn’t daunting, and strategy isn’t scary. Below are a few suggestions to help you shift your mindset so you can see strategy differently.

  1. It’s not about the plan. In fact, it may be time to ditch the word “plan.” Strategic planning is more about the execution of thoughtful and informed goals and the review of their results than it is about the plan itself. The planning process helps your agency improve these results, but the plan is not a strategy. Brighter Strategies has defined a step-by-step process for strategy that includes a planning phase, an execution phase, and a review phase. We are big proponents of continual improvement, and adaptation of your strategy is necessary for ongoing transformation.
  2. It is about the big picture. Don’t get lost in the details. SWOT analyses, scorecards, action steps, and communication plans can be helpful when they serve as tools for illustrating your current reality and depicting a desired future state. But it is more important to think in generalities than specifics when envisioning your agency one-to-three years into the future and revisit the operational details during ongoing check-ins.
  3. Focus on inspiration. A good strategy mobilizes. It is not a boring tome that sits on a shelf in every leader’s office, nor is it an impossible plan that demands a fictional certainty. Instead, it understands the vision of the organization and brings the heart and soul of its mission to life. It provides an actionable — yet flexible and fluid — framework for fulfilling your agency’s and stakeholders’ professional passions.

For mission-oriented nonprofit organizations, strategic planning efforts may take some work to execute. But those non-profit leaders who make strategy a priority will stand above the rest. Don’t let the future define you; instead, create the future you want for your programs, employees, and the people you serve.

How is your nonprofit faring with strategy? If you need assistance with your current efforts or think our step-by-step process could help you, Brighter Strategies is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our resources and services.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.