Strategic Planning for Nonprofits: 3 Ways It Improves Your Work

In the recently published Nonprofit Sector Leadership Report, we were surprised at how quickly the importance of basic strategic planning is for nonprofits. Of the more than 1000 people who took the survey, 49% were operating without a strategic plan or without a strategic plan in writing!

Strategic Planning Infographic

The lack of strategic planning wasn’t reserved to smaller nonprofits. Even with nonprofits with budgets of over $5 million, one in five were operating without a strategic plan.

Intrigued, we did a deeper dive in the data and found these three reasons why strategic plans are important.

3 Reasons Strategic Planning Matters to Your Nonprofit

  1. Strategic plans help you share your vision

    Everyone in the survey said being able to communicate their vision was an important part of leadership. But 62% of leaders said they struggled with how to share the vision.

    Looking deeper, we discovered a huge difference between leaders with a strategic plan and those without. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of leaders with strategic plans said they had a vision that was understood within their organization and outside of it. This confidence was shared by less than half of the leaders without strategic plans.

    If your work involves communicating stories to donors, media, supporters, or even to the board and staff, the data suggests that a written strategic plan can be an incredible asset.

  2. Decreased leadership stress

    Nonprofit leadership takes all that a person can bring to the position. So it wasn’t surprising that 95% of those surveyed reported feeling confident in their leadership abilities. But drilling down in the data uncovered an interesting nuance.

    Just about half (46%) of leaders of organizations with a strategic plan defined their confidence as “very confident.” But those without a strategic plan? The same amount (45%) described it as only “somewhat confident.”

    While possibly a fine nuance, it is statistically significant. And, more importantly, it is very significant for everyone who works in the organization! Nonprofits with insecure leaders often suffer from organizational whiplash.

    Written strategic plans seem to help leaders operate with stronger confidence than their peers without written plans.

  3. Increased collaboration

    Time and again, we’ve seen that collaborating with other nonprofits can help reduce our costs and often created better outcomes. But in the data, a shocking 70% said they didn’t even factor other nonprofits in with their strategic planning. The interesting difference was that one in three (33%) of those with a strategic plan reported collaborating with another nonprofit weekly. That was true for only one in five of those without a plan.

    Strategic plans seem to give us a base to operate from, allowing us to create better outcomes than we might be able to produce on our own.

Strategic plans are not a silver bullet

No where does the data suggest that creating a strategic plan is a magic “cure all” for your nonprofit’s leadership issues. But the research indicates that nonprofits with strategic plans:

  • find their various stakeholders are signing from the same sheet;
  • have leaders working with more confidence; and
  • are more willing to collaborate with other organizations.

Strategic Planning Infographic

If you’re looking for better results from your work, check to see if there is a written strategic plan. Since almost half of our nonprofits are unnecessarily sabotaging themselves without one, your odds of finding one are 50/50!

Click here to learn more about the report, and to see the four basic questions for framing a strategic plan.

John Haydon