Strategic Planning for Nonprofits: A Guide to Future Success

This image shows a consultant sitting at a table with nonprofit professionals, guiding them through nonprofit strategic planning.

Your nonprofit depends upon the combined efforts of its leadership, staff, volunteers, donors, and advocates to generate a meaningful impact in the lives of the people you serve. However, the nonprofit landscape is always shifting—as are your teams, priorities, and resources. How do you ensure that you’re continuing to create the change you set out to create?

Strategic planning for nonprofit organizations is a crucial process for long-term success. By outlining your path forward, you can regain clarity about your work and re-motivate your team about the future.

To create an effective strategic plan for your nonprofit, it’s important to understand the basic steps and when to seek expert guidance during the process. In this guide, we’ll cover all the strategic planning essentials and walk through seven excellent examples of strategic plans:

According to a recent nonprofit sector study, 62% of nonprofit professionals reported that managing change was at least somewhat difficult for their organization over the past few years. Whether your nonprofit is looking to find clarity amid significant change, realign on its original purpose, or embark upon a major initiative, developing a clear strategic plan will set you up for success.

Click to contact us to learn how Laridae’s expert consultants can support your nonprofit strategic planning efforts.

Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations: The Basics

While the strategic planning process will differ for each nonprofit depending on its specific goals, needs, and situation, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions to provide your organization with the foundation it needs to benefit from creating a strategic plan.

What is strategic planning for nonprofits?

For nonprofits, strategic planning refers to the process of creating an actionable roadmap that defines how your organization will achieve its long-term goals over a specified period of time.

Typically, this process involves assessing your nonprofit’s current state, identifying opportunities and challenges, engaging stakeholders, and reflecting on its mission. Your strategic plan will usually outline your steps forward for the next three to five years.

When should nonprofits conduct strategic planning?

Many occasions may lead a nonprofit to undertake strategic planning. Some of the most common reasons why your organization may need to start the process include:

This image illustrates the main reasons that may lead organizations to conduct nonprofit strategic planning, detailed below.
  • Reallocating your nonprofit’s resources. Your nonprofit often has to make the most of limited resources, from funds to staff time. With so many different priorities, it can be challenging to determine whether you’re using your resources productively. Strategic planning can help you reallocate time, funds, and energy to where it matters most.
  • Needing to realign your teams. It can be easy to lose focus on your main priorities and mission in your day-to-day work. By conducting strategic planning, you can prevent mission drift and keep your staff, stakeholders, and community members aligned on your key purpose—while juggling all your nonprofit does to make a difference in its community.
  • Picking up where your previous strategic plan ended. A strategic plan provides the mold that shapes your nonprofit’s future, but only for the next several years or so. At the end of this time period, your leadership and board members will need to regroup and realign on your nonprofit’s goals. This ensures that everyone remains focused on how your organization can most effectively serve its purpose moving forward.
  • Adding a new program or strategy. If you’re planning to launch a new program or dive into a new fundraising strategy, developing a strategic plan empowers staff members to confidently and collaboratively contribute toward your nonprofit’s success.
  • Adapting to current changes your nonprofit is experiencing. Whether you’re facing staff turnover or larger changes in the nonprofit sector as a whole, crafting a strategic plan helps your organization adapt and continue generating impactful results from its work.

However, there are also less-than-ideal times for launching into the strategic planning process. For instance, if your nonprofit is undergoing a change in executive leadership, it may be more difficult to produce a well-thought-out plan. Regardless of your organization’s circumstances, partnering with an experienced nonprofit consultant can ensure that you make the most of your strategic planning efforts.

Why is nonprofit strategic planning important?

Your nonprofit’s long-term success hinges on its ability to navigate fluctuations in its staff, fundraising results, resources, and more. The Center for Effective Philanthropy found that nonprofit leaders consider support in strategic planning and development to be one of the most important areas for addressing the challenges they face.

An effective strategic plan anchors your organization when it encounters rough waters and propels your impact forward when the way is clear. To make the most out of your efforts, however, it’s crucial to take a thoughtful approach and follow strategic planning best practices.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with building a strategic plan, there’s no need to worry! You can always turn to a nonprofit consulting firm that will guide you through the entire process.

Strategic Planning for Success: Laridae’s Expert Process

At Laridae, we’ve proudly helped over 100 nonprofits in a wide range of sectors craft their strategic plans. Our strategic planning experts are driven by impact and equipped with years of experience working with purpose-driven organizations across Canada.

While we tailor our approach to each nonprofit’s specific needs and goals, our time-tested process follows these general steps:

This image shows four proven steps for success in Laridae’s process for nonprofit strategic planning, detailed below.
  1. Planning and Research. First, we’ll review key documents to gain an in-depth understanding of your nonprofit and hold thoughtful discussions with your leadership and board members. We prioritize securing board buy-in from the get-go so everyone can start the process together on the same page. Then, we’ll conduct research into your environment to gather the necessary context to move forward.
  2. Stakeholder Engagement. We specialize in engaging stakeholders through surveys, focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and town halls. Tuning into the thoughts and feedback of your staff, donors, volunteers, and other community members is essential to ensuring that your nonprofit continues to respect their interests and include them in your roadmap into the future.
  3. Strategic Planning Retreat. After collecting qualitative data from your stakeholders, we’ll organize a strategic planning retreat that allows all members of your board and senior management to discuss and come to an agreement on your nonprofit’s priorities moving forward. Together, we’ll take a look at critical information such as stakeholder feedback, and conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis to inform your decision-making.
  4. Strategic Plan Drafting. Following the retreat, we’ll draft a tailored, actionable strategic plan for your nonprofit and collaborate with you to produce a document that meets all of your expectations.

Throughout our partnership, we’ll employ frameworks such as Design Thinking and Theory of Change to help you maximize the strategic planning process. Guided by our human-centered approach, we’ll help you lay out all the necessary steps your nonprofit needs to take to generate the impact you desire.

5 Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models to Know

Every nonprofit approaches strategic planning with different reasons and goals. As a result, numerous models have emerged to guide organizations depending on their specific circumstances. These are generalized approaches best used as a reference rather than a detailed blueprint for your strategic planning journey.

Five of the most common strategic planning models for nonprofits are:

  • Standard Nonprofit Strategic Plan. This model outlines the most basic and comprehensive approach to nonprofit strategic planning, which involves analyzing your organization’s current situation, determining its long-term goals, and creating a plan to accomplish those goals. 
  • Organic Nonprofit Strategic Plan. An organic nonprofit strategic planning approach is suited for organizations that prefer a more flexible process. This is useful when you’re faced with uncertain changes both within and outside of your nonprofit, as it involves revisiting your goals on a more frequent basis.
  • Issue-Based Strategic Plan. This model focuses on addressing a single challenge, project, or focus area. Therefore, this approach will produce a strategic plan that is less comprehensive than a standard one. Developing an issue-based strategic plan allows your nonprofit to focus on handling a specific issue or opportunity in a more efficient and unified manner.
  • Real-Time Strategic Plan. Real-time strategic planning involves continuous planning and shorter-term goals to respond effectively to changing circumstances. Nonprofits in an unpredictable or fast-changing environment may consider opting for this approach.
  • Alignment Strategic Plan. The alignment strategic planning model focuses on creating a sense of cohesion across your leadership, teams, and stakeholders. This approach emphasizes collaboration and identifying how all roles within your nonprofit can work together more productively.

Remember, however, that no single model will be the perfect fit for your organization. The key to successful strategic planning for nonprofits is flexibility and adaptability. Therefore, it’s best to consider partnering with an expert consultant who has the experience and skills to adapt the process to your unique needs.

How to Prepare for Nonprofit Strategic Planning

After exploring the basics of strategic planning for nonprofits, you may have decided that your organization needs a new strategic plan, but how do you go about it? Before you hit the ground running, take the time to determine whether your nonprofit is ready for the strategic planning process.

Gather your leadership team and board members and ask yourselves the following questions:

This image shows the essential questions you should consider, listed below, to prepare for the nonprofit strategic planning process.
  • Do we have a clear and concise goal for this strategic plan?
  • Why are we creating a strategic plan now?
  • Is our nonprofit ready for honest, open reflection?
  • How much of our time and resources can we commit to this process?
  • Who will lead our strategic planning process?
  • How will we engage stakeholders?
  • How will we measure progress toward our strategic planning goals?
  • What tools, skills, or guidance do we need to make the most of this process?

BoardSource study found that, while 78% of nonprofit CEOs reported having a formal strategic plan for their organization, only one-third of executives and half of board chairs indicated that the board had a positive impact on defining strategic priorities.

Holding a board meeting to discuss all of these strategic planning aspects ensures that everyone is committed and prepared to embark on the journey. This proactive communication reduces the chances of any disconnect later on.

Download Laridae’s free strategic planning self-assessment tool to determine whether your organization is ready to start the process.

Consider Hiring a Strategic Planning Consultant

There are a lot of factors to consider when preparing for a fruitful strategic planning process, and not all of them are easy to address. For instance, you may find that your nonprofit has limited time or experience to invest in planning. Or, perhaps you’d like to breathe new life into your organization’s processes and thinking.

A nonprofit consultant can boost your strategic planning results by:

  • Crafting a tailored strategic planning approach. Nonprofit strategic planning consultants have the expertise to go beyond basic models and frameworks to create a process that directly responds to your organization’s specific needs and priorities. They’ll know where your nonprofit can best focus its time and resources to get the most out of its strategic planning.
  • Bringing a fresh perspective to your organization. A consultant brings an objective, professional perspective to your strategic planning journey. They’re willing to facilitate tough conversations, ask incisive questions, and promote critical thinking that allows your nonprofit to advance beyond its traditional thought processes.
  • Engaging stakeholders as a neutral third party. Before you can include stakeholders’ input in your strategic plan, you first need to collect their feedback. As a neutral third party, a nonprofit strategic planning consultant can conduct engagement activities that encourage brave, authentic conversations and glean the insights you need to guide your planning.
  • Leveraging the latest strategic planning best practices. Nonprofit consultants have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to tips and pitfalls to watch out for during the strategic planning process. They’ll provide innovative strategies and use recent trends to enhance your results.

There are two main types of roles a strategic planning consultant can fill. They can either lead the entire strategic planning process for your nonprofit, which includes drafting your plan for you, or they can coach your leadership team as it leads your organization through its strategic planning journey. Use the answers you’ve gathered from the questions in the previous section to determine how much support your nonprofit will need.

If your nonprofit is looking to develop the internal expertise to conduct strategic plans on its own, consider looking into self-directed programs guided by expert consultants.

Laridae’s Strategy Academy, for example, helps ensure that you produce an impactful strategic plan for your organization while coaching you through every step of the process. Plus, our program’s online, cohort-based format provides additional opportunities for your team to build community and learn from other peers in the sector.

Click through to learn about Laridae’s Strategy Academy and how you can empower your team through the nonprofit strategic planning process.

Strategic Planning for Nonprofits Process: 4 Steps

Whether you’re working with an expert consultant or tackling the strategic planning process alone, we’ll walk through four essential steps that will pave the way to an effective strategic plan.

1. Examine your organization and environment.

First, to provide a foundation for your planning, take a look at your nonprofit’s current state and performance. Then, consider any trends or challenges in your sector as a whole.

Some basic factors to examine include:

  • Recent financial details, including revenue and expenses.
  • Past key performance indicators.
  • Latest trends, changes, and challenges in the sector.
  • Programs and strategies launched by similar organizations.

This general overview of your nonprofit should provide the necessary context for determining your priorities and goals moving forward.

2. Engage your stakeholders.

Stakeholder engagement provides an ideal opportunity for you to collect qualitative information about your stakeholders’ experiences, concerns, and connections to your nonprofit. By focusing on active listening, you’ll assure donors, volunteers, staff, beneficiaries, and other members of your community that you value their input.

There are several ways you can engage your stakeholders, including:

  • Online surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Town hall meetings
  • One-on-one interviews

Different stakeholders will likely have different preferences when it comes to engagement, so use your existing data on each group to identify which activities will resonate with them most. In general, hiring a third party to conduct your engagement can create opportunities for more open and honest communication.

After gathering feedback, consolidate all the information into several important takeaways to consider as you develop your nonprofit strategic plan.

3. Conduct a strategic planning retreat.

Holding a dedicated strategic planning retreat allows all of your board and senior management members to come together and have in-depth discussions on your nonprofit overview, stakeholder engagement results, and priorities for the future. During this retreat, participants will have the chance to share their thoughts and ask any important questions they may still have.

Additionally, it can be helpful for everyone to conduct a SWOT analysis that sorts all the information you’ve accumulated into your nonprofit’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This allows you to begin piecing together your priorities into actionable steps that you can take over the next few years.

4. Review your mission, vision, and values.

While many strategic planning processes involve examining your nonprofit’s mission, vision, and values at the beginning, this is often premature. In fact, doing so may limit your thinking and approach as you learn more about your organization and stakeholders’ opinions.

By reviewing your mission, vision, and values at the end of your strategic planning journey, you’ll ensure that your team has already developed a clearer understanding of your nonprofit’s brand, purpose, and priorities. This allows them to make more informed adjustments as necessary.

Click to contact us to learn how Laridae’s expert consultants can support your nonprofit strategic planning efforts.

7 Stellar Nonprofit Strategic Planning Examples

Strategic planning for your nonprofit may seem like a complex undertaking, but it’s perfectly feasible with the right approach and guidance. Take a look at these seven excellent nonprofit strategic plans to get inspired.

1. Streams Community Hub

As a nonprofit based in Shelburne, Ontario, Streams Community Hub is dedicated to educating and empowering youth through various art programs. Upon reaching its fourth year in operation, Streams decided that it was time to produce its first-ever strategic plan. After experiencing promising growth in reputation and size over the past few years, Streams’ board wanted to pave a path toward greater impact moving forward.

Streams partnered with Laridae to engage 230 various stakeholders, from artists to partner organizations, and develop a strategic plan for the next five years. This plan, directly responding to stakeholders’ input, outlines four directions that encapsulate Streams’ priorities for the coming years, ensuring that the organization remains focused on the community it serves.

This screenshot from Streams Community Hub’s strategic plan illustrates one of several stellar nonprofit strategic planning examples.

2. Habitat for Humanity Northumberland

When it was time to renew their outdated strategic plan, the governance committee at Habitat for Humanity Northumberland (HFHN) reached out to Laridae for support throughout the process. Since the nonprofit had previous experience with Laridae’s governance training and Management Training Program, they were confident in our expertise and guidance.

For HFHN, the process began with information-gathering, examining factors such as the average cost to purchase a home and Northumberland County’s population growth. Then, after in-depth stakeholder engagement, HFHN’s team was able to clarify the nonprofit’s key values: People, Partnership, and Adaptability. At the end of their strategic planning process, they had a draft that took only three weeks to reach final board approval.

This screenshot illustrates the process that Habitat for Humanity Northumberland followed in its nonprofit strategic planning journey.

3. Ontario Association of Social Workers

The Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on promoting the interests of social workers across Ontario. Following the pandemic, OASW wanted to craft a five-year strategic plan to adapt to recent changes in the community and new leadership within the association. To do so, the organization partnered with Laridae for guidance.

After a thorough planning process, which involved engaging 625 stakeholders, OASW emerged with a strategic plan that both reaffirmed its mission, vision, and values and laid out four strategic directions forward. For each direction, OASW specified exactly how it planned to accomplish its goals.

This screenshot from the Ontario Association of Social Workers’ strategic plan is an example of successful nonprofit strategic planning.

4. Surrey Place

As a nonprofit organization that serves people with developmental disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and visual impairments, Surrey Place needed to create a strategic plan that responded to changes in service delivery and set the foundation for long-term success. As another one of Laridae’s clients, the nonprofit was able to develop its strategy for the next three years.

The plan includes Surrey Place’s main commitments moving forward, accompanied by powerful images representing the organization’s impact, as well as three main strategic directions to guide its efforts.

This screenshot illustrates the final document that resulted from Surrey Place’s nonprofit strategic planning process.

5. Temiskaming Hospital

Temiskaming Hospital is a nonprofit hospital driven to improve the health and well-being of people in northern rural Ontario. To prepare its strategic plan for the next five years, Temiskaming Hospital reached out to Laridae’s experts to guide its board through the process.

After conducting qualitative research through stakeholder engagement, combined with in-depth discussions with leadership members, the organization was able to develop a plan that encapsulates its mission, vision, and values and defines four strategic directions to prioritize in the next few years. Additionally, it includes a dedicated page sharing stakeholder engagement activities that took place, thanking participants for their involvement.

This is a screenshot of Temiskaming Hospital’s strategic plan, which is a stellar nonprofit strategic planning example.

6. Hospice Quinte

As a nonprofit, Hospice Quinte provides support to people who are terminally ill, along with their families. To produce a comprehensive three-year strategic plan, the organization partnered with Laridae to guide its board of directors through the entire process. Together, we examined Hospice Quinte’s current situation, opportunities, and goals to formulate five strategic directions to focus on.

The process included conducting online surveys, focus groups, and interviews to collect stakeholder feedback on areas to focus on, which are all included in the strategic plan. At the end of the plan, Hospice Quinte outlined clear, tangible steps it will focus on moving forward.

This is a screenshot of Hospice Quinte’s strategic plan after they completed their nonprofit strategic planning journey with Laridae’s support.

7. Brock Community Health Centre

Brock Community Health Centre (CHC) is one of many nonprofits that provide primary care and health services for people living in their community. Brock CHC is another one of Laridae’s clients in the healthcare sector that needed to develop a new strategic plan following changes in the landscape following the pandemic.

The nonprofit created two versions of its strategic plan for its leadership, staff, and community members to reference. One is an infographic summary, highlighting its four strategic directions for the next three years, while the other is the full plan, going into more detail about the planning process and goals.

This screenshot of Brock CHC’s strategic plan summary is another excellent example of a productive nonprofit strategic planning process.

Embarking on Your Nonprofit Strategic Planning Journey

Ultimately, strategic planning provides an opportunity for your nonprofit to reflect on its past impact, reinspire everyone involved in its mission, and lay the groundwork for meaningful growth and long-term success.

At Laridae, we have over a decade of experience supporting nonprofits on their strategic planning journeys. Our commitment to working with purpose-driven organizations means that we’re able to approach every partnership with an in-depth understanding of your goals, values, and mission. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed or would like to learn more about how our expert nonprofit consultants can boost your strategic planning efforts, please feel free to reach out!

For a deeper dive into strategic planning for nonprofit organizations, check out our additional resources:

Supporting Your Nonprofit Strategic Planning Efforts