Strategic Planning: It Can be Taught

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Nothing sends shudders down the spines of busy nonprofit leaders like the words “strategic plan.” But having strategic goals is vitally important to your organization’s ongoing success. Without a roadmap telling you where to focus your organization’s energy, money and talent, where will you wind up?

Without strategic goals and clearly defined objectives, those working within your organization will likely flounder about or worse, lack a sense of purpose and accomplishment in their work. While their intentions will be good, it’s impossible to prioritize activities without clear direction. And, we can’t celebrate success if we haven’t defined it.

What’s more, you’ll find it difficult to respond when inevitable changes occur. For example, if a budget crisis arises, your strategic plan will help you focus on your organization’s priorities when hard choices have to be made.

In our experience, many nonprofits develop a strategic plan, only to have it sit on a shelf and gather dust instead of guiding daily operations. Or worse, some nonprofits shy away from developing a plan altogether.

Why is that? Nonprofits may not have a strategic plan because: 

  • They think it’s only for businesses and isn’t applicable in the nonprofit realm.
  • They are too overwhelmed to think past today.
  • They are OK with maintaining the status quo.

Or, they may have a strategic plan, but it’s nothing more than words on paper, put there by board members who are too far removed from the organization’s day-to-day operations to set meaningful targets.

Most often though, nonprofits simply don’t know where to start. Strategic planning shouldn’t be onerous or overwhelming. It should simply be used to drive the organization’s actions throughout the year.

Fortunately, strategic planning can be taught. No, you won’t have to spend hours sitting in a classroom learning an abstract new concept. You simply need to think about your organization’s work in a meaningful way.


First, Focus Your Intentions

By focusing your intentions on strategic objectives, you allow those within your organization to leverage their energies, resist distraction and see goals through to completion. Essentially, you turn your energies toward the desired outcome. What do you want to change? To accomplish? When you know the answers to those questions, you’ll be able to funnel the appropriate resources in the right direction.


Think Broadly

If you could control every variable that happens to your organization or to the community you serve, strategic planning might not be as important. Alas, we don’t always have control of the things that impede our organization’s ability to meet clearly defined goals. When thinking strategically, consider the entire “ecosystem” that impacts your organization. Consider how the world outside your doors could affect your service delivery. Will political or cultural changes influence your future? Does the community care about your cause? True, you can’t anticipate every eventuality, but use your best judgement to identify the things that could hinder (or help) your mission, both now and in the future. Talk to people. Read a lot. Stay abreast of the local, regional and national news.


Learn from the Past

Your focus may be on the future, but you can only act in the present. Instead of focusing only on what’s to come, connect the past to the present so you can plan for the future. You’ll be better equipped to make predictions and assess the gap between your current circumstance and where you ultimately want to be.


Seize Opportunities

A strategic thinker is basically a walking SWOT analysis. He or she is always looking for new opportunities. Look inside your organization to get a variety of perspectives and ideas. Employees, board members, donors, volunteers and clients can each lend a different perspective to your planning process. You may be making a lot of assumptions that could ultimately hinder your goals. The more you look and listen to others, the better positioned you’ll be to create an effective strategic plan.


Think Like a Scientist

Strategic thinking should be both creative and critical. It’s not unlike creating a hypothesis. Use “What if,” and “If...then” questions to consider myriad scenarios. Using your current knowledge, analyze each scenario and decide which to “test” in your strategic plan. As the plan is implemented, you’ll learn from experience and be better equipped to create new hypotheses for future actions. 


Yes, strategic planning may sound like a bunch gobbledygook lifted from the pages of a business school textbook, but strategic planning is vital to the success of your organization, regardless of its size, mission or maturity. Strategic planning is simply a way to focus your organization’s efforts in a meaningful way.


Need hands-on assistance? We’re glad to help. Contact us today to learn how our experts can help you craft a strategic plan for your organization.


Ginger Keller-Ferguson, MBA

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  • Betty, please send us an email to We’d love to discuss your needs and what we can provide. Thank you!

    Katherine Elizabeth Bradley on
  • we have just voted to hire a firm to do our strategic plan. what is your cost?

    betty l. fletcher on

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