Every organization can benefit from a strategic plan that defines its mission and values and outlines strategic goals and the steps necessary to achieve them. Frequent adjustments and updates can keep the plan relevant to your changing environment.

If little has changed in your organization since it was founded, its focus and practices may be outdated and incompatible with ever-changing financial realities and external environment. Creating a strategic plan can provide a framework to help you adapt to change and achieve your long-term goals, even when the future is uncertain.

Perhaps you’ve made strategic plans in the past and felt they weren’t productive. But they may simply have been too narrowly or too broadly focused.

Focus on Your Mission and Values

Strategic planning starts with your nonprofit’s mission statement. Your organization’s mission statement should present the purpose of the organization to employees, organization leaders, and other constituents.  Does your current statement accurately describe what you do? If not, decide whether your nonprofit suffers from “mission drift” and needs to return to its original focus, or whether you simply need to rewrite your mission statement to reflect current realities.

Next, define your organization’s values. Values may relate to the people you serve but should also include how your nonprofit operates. For example, is an open and team-oriented working environment important? Then include it on the list.

It is important to seek input from all stakeholders during this process, including both internal and external. This includes board members, staff, donors, major grantmakers, and beneficiaries of your services. Multiple viewpoints about your organization’s mission and values and involvement of all stakeholders will help keep long-term goals realistic. In addition, everyone who’ll be affected by your finalized strategic plan will enjoy a sense of ownership in it.

Setting Strategic Goals – A Collaborative Creative Exercise

Once you’ve established your mission and values, use them as a foundation for setting strategic goals.

To kick off your goal-setting session, ask your strategic team members some questions around where your organization is headed and what the organization’s priorities should be. Consider asking the following questions and encourage creative answers:

  • What has our nonprofit accomplished? How does that differ from what we’d hoped it would have accomplished by now?
  • Should our organization maintain its current focus? Are there more pressing needs that deserve our attention instead?
  • What areas can we do better and continue to improve on?
  • What would we set out to accomplish if money were no object?
  • What can we do to make our organization more attractive to our constituents?

Goals that answer such questions should be achievable, specific and measurable. Be sure to describe how your nonprofit hopes to accomplish each goal and how you’ll monitor progress toward it. Strategic goals should define what will be accomplished, by whom, and by when.

Implementation challenges

Many strategic plans ultimately fail because the organization fails in their execution and breaking goals down into small, achievable steps. For example, if your goal is to increase online donations by 20%, separate out such tasks as “simplify and upgrade online donation page” and “use social media to publicize donation options.”

Another potential challenge is getting stakeholders to believe in the goals and willingly make the changes that are required to achieve them. Real change starts with your nonprofit’s leadership. If managers and board members make your organization’s strategic goals and the tasks associated with them a high priority, staff members are more likely to follow suit.

To help ensure progress, break your plan into annual (or even quarterly or monthly) objectives and assign responsibility for achieving each of them to specific individuals. Developing an annual plan allows you to measure and reward performance in achieving individual objectives on the road to accomplishing overall organizational goals.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Maintaining focus is one of the most difficult parts of implementing a strategic plan. But don’t ditch your plan because you and your staff occasionally get distracted or fail to achieve every goal in their allotted time period. Strategic planning isn’t a one-time exercise but an ongoing effort that helps keep your nonprofit moving in the right direction.

Contact your BMF Advisor to assist your organization in developing strategies that align with your mission.

What’s your brand?

If you and your staff are having trouble coming up with a set of focused, cohesive long-term goals, try answering this question: What’s your brand?

Gone are the days when brands and branding strategies were tools used solely by for-profit companies. Many nonprofits have found that a strongly defined and executed brand strategy helps them increase visibility and financial support.

A successful nonprofit brand communicates three things:

  1. How your organization differs from similar organizations,
  2. What makes your mission and goals credible, and
  3. Why people should support your organization.

Consistency is critical in your organization’s branding strategy. Getting your brand message across calls for a wide commitment that encompasses everything from website content to fundraising event themes to the information included on your Form 990.

You can use your nonprofit’s strategic plan to break the brand-building process into small, achievable goals. For example, as a one-year objective, you might condense your mission statement into a short, memorable motto and incorporate it into your organization’s print, online and verbal communications. In addition to boosting your public profile, an objective such as this, which would likely involve all team members, can help build organizational unity and sense of purpose.

About the Authors

Katie A. Allender

CPA
Manager, Assurance and Advisory

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