Nonprofit Strategy and Planning

Importance of Nonprofit Strategic Planning

One of the board’s primary responsibilities is to set direction for the organization through strategic planning.

A strategic plan or framework serves as a roadmap and as a tool for assessing progress. Working side-by-side with staff leadership, your board should play an active and substantive role in developing, approving, and supporting your organization’s strategic planning.

The nature of strategic planning is changing, however, in response to the turbulence caused by the most recent recession and the challenge of planning in a constantly changing environment. Plans must be adaptable and reviewed regularly. At the same time, some nonprofit leaders have found that planning in a dynamic environment presents an opportunity to think differently.

Nonprofit leaders are encouraged to incorporate the Purpose-Driven Board Leadership principles to guide your strategic planning process. While this centers around the four principles, in particular, equity mindset and authorized voice and power, can drive the change that most organizations need to take board leadership and thinking to new heights. It is vitally important that organizations incorporate and amplify the voices of the communities served to remove any systemic inequities and lead to greater social impact. As you clarify your organization’s strategic priorities, you may find that they are best accomplished in partnership with others. Consider a strategic alliance with another organization to accelerate your mission work and unlock new opportunities for impact.

BoardSource has also seen a shift away from traditional strategic plans based on three- to five-year time horizons and long planning processes. There has been a move toward strategic frameworks articulating organizational priorities, business plans that combine programmatic and operational goals with financial forecasts, as well as more robust annual plans with clear metrics and timelines.

Whether the path is more traditional or a new framework,  the most important planning tool a nonprofit has is the strategic planning process, and this should reflect a shared board and staff vision of the organization’s role, values, and priorities. It should also include a clear focus on the purpose of your organization and the community it serves. Nonprofits need to ensure that those most impacted by the plans have a voice in the planning. According to Leading with Intent, strategic planning remains among the top areas in need of board improvement, and the following resources are designed to help.

The following resources are designed to help boards improve their performance in the area of strategic planning. According to Leading with Intent, strategic planning remains among the top areas in need of board improvement.

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Guides, Tools, Templates, and Infographics


Written Resources

All 101-level topical resources listed below are available publicly. BoardSource members have access to 101, 201, and 301- level resources. Don’t forget to visit the BoardSource store for more resources and training on this topic.

5 Phases of Strategic Planning

101| Community resource. Strategic planning often unfolds in a series of five phases, with each phase building on the one that came before. When beginning a new phase of strategic planning, it is important to keep a few key questions in mind.

Ask Our Consultants: Strategic Planning & Redefining the Vision

101 | Community resource. What happens when, during the strategic planning process, a nonprofit realizes it needs to redefine its vision? A BoardSource senior governance consultant provides the answer.

Charting a New Path Forward: Insights & Reflections from BoardSource’s Strategic Planning Efforts

101 | Community resource. BoardSource’s board and senior staff reflect on our recent strategic planning process, sharing insights about how this method was different from our past strategic plans and what we learned from the process.

Choosing to Merge

101| Community resource. Merging two or more organizations has a major impact on the boards, staff, funders, clients, and the rest of the constituents. Before deciding to merge, each participant must go through thorough self-analysis and be convinced that this is the right solution for its restructuring needs.

Creating a Separate Fundraising Foundation

201| Members only resource. Creating a separate but affiliated fundraising organization — a foundation for the purpose of raising funds — is not for every nonprofit. If your board is considering the option, it is important to identify the various challenges and benefits such a foundation might bring with it.

Dissolving a Nonprofit

201| Members only resource. There may come a day in the life of every nonprofit when a difficult question must be posed: Is it time for us to close? For some, the final answer will be no, but asking the question may stimulate necessary changes. For many, the only honest answer will be yes.

Elements of a Vision Statement

101| Community resource. Key elements in meaningful, successful, and clear strategic thinking are vision, mission, and values of the organization. The mission guides the organization today; a vision statement reflects the impact of the organization in the years to come; and the values define the ethical guidelines and standards that direct all action.

Exceptional Governance in Action: OneJustice

201| Members only resource. In this article, we introduce you to OneJustice, the grand-prize winner of the 2013 Prudential Leadership Awards for Exceptional Nonprofit Boards. We hope this organization and its board inspires you to seek new approaches to strengthening and building your own organization’s impact through exceptional board leadership.

Governance in Organizational Expansion

301| Members only resource. Over a 30-year history, Chelsea Neighborhood Developers (CND) has developed its mission and vision in Chelsea, Massachusetts, viewing its role as a catalyst for building great neighborhoods that empower people to grow and prosper. So, when the mayor of Revere, Massachusetts, a neighboring city, approached us to expand our model to Revere, our board engaged in an exciting and challenging discussion about what this might mean to us.

Mind the Gap: Mission Accomplishment Measures

101| Community resource. The creation of mission accomplishment measures allows you to identify your “mission gap” and to then work at closing it.

Nonprofit Business Plan

201| Members only resource. There are many types of planning techniques a nonprofit can use to try to become financially stable. More popular in the corporate sector, business plans are an often-overlooked practice for nonprofits. They make good business sense when crafted to test or start a new program, service, or a business venture.

Rebranding: A Success Story

201| Members only resource. Does your brand fit your organization? Does it accurately reflect and communicate the work you do? If not, meet Clarifi.

Reimagining Boards for High Impact

101| Community resource. What if leaders could grow their impact without growing their organizations? Read six primary areas where boards can focus their energy to strengthen community relationships and dramatically increase their impact.

Roles in Strategic Planning

201| Members only resource. Planning the future of an organization is a major endeavor and involves a great number of people. It cannot happen in a vacuum. The success of the final plan — and the actual planning process — depends on the engagement of the right people at the appropriate phases of the process.

Scenario Planning

201| Members only resource. Plans need updating on a regular basis. Sometimes it is necessary to start from scratch; other times it suffices to focus only on certain aspects of an existing plan. Scenario planning allows the board and staff to dissect an overall plan and concentrate on specific endeavors or approaches to the organizational work.

Strengthen Your Board’s Leadership by Increasing Its Understanding of Programs

201| Members only resource. This resource outlines how a strong understanding of programs can impact board performance and suggests ways in which a board can strengthen its members’ knowledge of programs.