4 Steps to Accelerate Nonprofit Strategic Planning

Written by

Chuen Seet

Nonprofit organizations understand better than most how important it is to have an actionable strategic plan. You do not have room for error; your limited resources and high demand dictate this. Successfully executing on your strategic vision quickly and cheaply is top priority.

This may sound daunting but, believe it or not, it only takes 4 steps to build a roadmap that will keep your nonprofit’s strategic plan on track.

Here, we’ll provide a free template that you can use for a speedy mock-up, and we also have a fully-fledged tool to really accelerate this essential task.

Let’s step through the process for optimizing your nonprofit organization’s strategic planning.

What is a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is distinct from an execution or implementation plan in that it sits at the whole-of-organization strategy level, rather than at the project or program level.

Most importantly for the method we outline here, your strategic plan must be underpinned by a strategic roadmap. Whereas a plan describes how, a strategic roadmap is a specific type of roadmap that is grounded in what and why.

Your strategic planning process should be a perennial cycle. As a rough guideline, revisit your strategic roadmap every 3-4 months to ensure you are on track to realize your strategic vision.

Nonprofit strategic plan example

Searching 'strategic plan example' in Google yields millions of results — 872 million, in fact. Even 'nonprofit strategic plan example' gives you 12.7 million. So you’re far from alone when it comes to seeking inspiration and guidance for this crucial task!

Strategic planning methods can feel abstract and even incomprehensible without an example of how they work in reality. For this reason, the method outlined below is supported by this detailed example of how nonprofit organization Workout4Good applied the 4 steps to build their strategic roadmap.

4 steps to build a strategic plan for your nonprofit

4 steps for nonprofit strategic planning

Step 1: Determine challenges

Analyze your organization’s mission and vision. What is your strategy for achieving these? What goals are you aiming for?

Realising your strategic vision is never going to be easy. There will be many challenges in the way, and you need to identify these quickly. This is the first step: brainstorm every challenge standing between you and your vision.

Articulating problems may require some humility, as you need to consider internal challenges (such as low retention of volunteers beyond 6 months) as well as external challenges (such as cuts in government grants requiring diversification of funding). Remember that challenges mean opportunities as well as problems – don’t be too pessimistic!

Document all your challenges, then group similar ones together and prioritize your list. You want to be able to focus on the 6 top challenges – maximum. You’re simply not going to have the resources to tackle everything effectively.

Step 2: Set your objectives

Once you have consensus on your key challenges, it’s time to problem solve.

The second step is to create a list of objectives that are specific and measurable. These should articulate the outcomes that you must achieve to overcome your challenges, and therefore achieve your strategic vision.

Most importantly, each objective should link to one or more of your key challenges, and no challenge should be left without a linked objective. Getting visual is the best way to ensure this alignment – literally write out your challenges and objectives and then draw lines to prove the linkages.

This ensures you’re not wasting resources on objectives that do not directly assist your nonprofit in overcoming its strategic challenges.

Step 3: Create initiatives

You’ve homed in on what you need to achieve (your nonprofit’s objectives) and why (your nonprofit’s challenges) – now, how do you do it?

The third step is to flesh out at a high level what work needs to be done, i.e. map out your initiatives.

These initiatives are what will feed into your strategic roadmap. Initiatives are packages of work, formed by bundling together related tasks and projects. You should be able to link each initiative to one or more of your objectives (and, by proxy, back to your challenges and strategic vision).

Focusing on the linkages between the steps is essential to ensure effective strategic planning for your nonprofit. This is how you logically and objectively allocate your precious resources.

Step 4: Visualize your workflow with a strategic roadmap

The final step is to plot your initiatives across a time horizon. Producing a strategic roadmap will help you and your team understand what needs to happen and when. It is a powerful visualization tool that keeps everyone aligned and on track.

If you want to develop a strategic roadmap while following our guided 4-step methodology, we recommend trying our Jibility 4-step tool.

When you use Jibility’s process, your strategic roadmap becomes a living document that is easy to keep up to date and easy to share with your team and stakeholders to explain your strategic decision making.

The below is an example of how a nonprofit roadmap in Jibility can look. For further detail on the creation process of this roadmap, read the full Workout4Good case study here.

Nonprofit Strategic Roadmap Example

Keeping your nonprofit’s strategic planning on track

The key word in the last paragraph is ‘living’. Your strategic planning process is not a done-and-dusted exercise. You know yourself how rapidly the environment in which you’re operating changes, and that means you should frequently check in to confirm your roadmap is still addressing the most important challenges. Following a reliable method like the 4 steps above will help you keep your eye on the ball.

Nonprofit strategic planning FAQ

What are common challenges for nonprofits?

Most nonprofits share common challenges, typically to do with resourcing. Finding funding, sourcing staff and volunteers, and coping with higher demand than the organization can supply are among the most common. These challenges can be overcome with thorough and qualified planning. Our strategic roadmapping tool helps you expedite the identification of your challenges by providing libraries of content containing the most common challenges and objectives faced by organizations.

Why is strategic planning important for nonprofits?

Nonprofit organizations need to get on top of their strategic planning process fast to maximise efficient use of their limited resources. This makes a consistent, simple and reliable method essential. The 4-step approach to nonprofit strategic planning outlined above is designed to ensure every decision aligns to your strategic vision. Start with identifying your top challenges; specify clear objectives to address these challenges; build initiatives to achieve these objectives; and prioritize these initiatives on a roadmap.

What are the 4 elements of strategic planning?

Strategic planning addresses the challenges facing nonprofits as they try to achieve their mission and vision. The 4 elements we recommend focusing upon are: challenges, objectives, initiatives and a roadmap. The method you follow should therefore include determining your nonprofit’s challenges, building out relevant objectives, combining work packages into initiatives, and plotting those initiatives on a strategic roadmap.

Jibility for efficient nonprofit strategic planning

Jibility is a cloud-based tool that guides users through the 4-step process above. Not only do we have a forever-free version of the tool, but we also offer discounted rates on our paid plans for nonprofits, to open up even more functionality.

Our tool and the Jibility Steps® method help nonprofits focus on what is most important for achieving their strategic vision in a logical and pragmatic way.