Strategic planning for not-for-profit organizations

My simple definition of strategic planning is: “A systematic determination of goals and the plans to achieve them.” My approach consists of three stages 1) strategic analysis (where are we) 2) determining a strategic direction (where do we want to go) and 3) operational planning (how do we get there).

1) Where are we? Strategic analysis is the research work you need to do so that your plans are based on facts and not merely perceptions and guesses. Part of this work is sometimes referred to as “external and internal scans.” Sometimes a “SWOT Analysis” 2×2 matrix is used to frame this information: Strengths/Weakness (internal) and Opportunities/Threats (external). Typically, an organization needs to understand things like: the demographic of its stakeholders (or potential stakeholders) and their expressed needs; the current policies of related government agencies and their potential for funding partnerships; if it is a membership-based organization, it needs to know the membership trends; who is the competition (i.e. where else can people turn for information and support); what are your resources (people, knowledge, financial capital); etc.

2) Where do we want/need to go? The next stage, determining a strategic direction, is then based on what you know from doing the work above. The strategic direction may include: a purpose (mission) statement (why do you exist, what difference will you make to society and your stakeholders); a vision statement (what will be the characteristics of the organization at some time in the future); a values statement (what are the values that you promote/exhibit). From these foundations, you then develop your strategic goals, which are the time-fixed outcomes for the future. It’s at this stage that I find Jim Collins’ hedgehog principle helpful: focus on the things that the leaders have passion for, the things the organization does better than anyone else, and the things that help drive the organization’s resources. If you want to know more about that, you can read my article here.

3) How do we get there? The third stage is the action plan, or operational plan. The strategic goals are broken down into a series of activities that if followed will result in the achievement of the goals. So, for example, if you decided that one of your strategic funding goals was to “develop revenue generating business partnerships” you might develop a series of milestones that include: a) develop a monetization model for a collaborative venture  b) collate a business kit positioning the organization as an authoritative and respected partner c) contract with commission-based development staff d) add program information to the website etc. These milestones would then be broken down into the practical work steps (a separate project/work plan process by those who will be implementing).