Thursday, March 9, 2017

Strategic Planning: A Roadmap for Nonprofits

Strategic planning is the process of defining an organization’s direction in the near- and long-term. Strategic planning links planning with implementation (Bryson 2016). This entails bringing together key internal and external stakeholders to gain their input. Without strategic planning, organizations fail to anticipate changing trends and to prepare for the future.

“…identifying and helping organize a deliberate pathway to promote mutual persuasion and learning among stakeholders about what to do, how, and why in order to fulfill an organization’s mission and meet its mandates.” ~ John M. Bryson (2016)

Strategic Planning Process

Source: United Way

The strategic planning process builds upon itself and has a natural progression, though organizations often find themselves repeating iterations of the steps (Bryson 2016). Every step of the process should be completed with implementation and evaluation in mind (Bryson 2016). It should be repeated at least annually to assess how the organization is doing in regards to hitting its benchmarks and implementing its action plans. Regular strategic planning also allows the organization to identify new SWOTs and strategic issues as they arise and to adjust its long-term plans accordingly.

Benefits of Strategic Planning

Strategic planning prevents organizations from suffering from a lack of direction or from spreading themselves too thin as they try to go in too many different directions at once. By virtue of completing the strategic planning process, an organization becomes more future- and action-oriented (Bryson 2016).

Since the process entails gathering input from internal and external stakeholders, the result is collaborative solutions rather than prescribed, top-down ones. The strategic planning process entails creating small groups to promote deeper discussion and encourage everyone to contribute their ideas. Small groups encourage even the most reticent group members to share their thoughts. Increased input helps the agency to identify more solutions and to anticipate more of the drawbacks to any potential plans of action. Gaining input from a wide circle of people builds consensus around the plan. Furthermore, it increases stakeholder buy-in, upping the likelihood of greater involvement and support for the organization’s initiatives from management, the board of directors, partner organizations, program beneficiaries, and the wider community.


Bryson, John M. “Strategic Planning and the Strategy Change Cycle.” In Renz, David (eds.), Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2016.
United Way of Dane County. “Strategic Planning Process.”