Your Agenda for Nonprofit Strategic Planning

A Must-Have for Nonprofits

Hello, New Year! It’s a new year and you are ready and organized with all your quarters outlined, projects in place and all fund-raising events set up, right?

I mean, you know when you will be applying for grants and have your calendars synced for all employees and board of directors…or do you? You’ve had an annual retreat and your board of directors knows everything needed for the new year…am I right?

Or, like many other nonprofits, you are starting this new year:

  • stuck in survival mode
  • too busy to make time for planning
  • have been meaning to do some research but are preoccupied
  • don’t even know where to start as things change quickly and constantly

If this sounds like your organization, like so many nonprofit organizations (i.e. the majority of nonprofits), then this article is for you. It is time to change the way that you have been functioning, get organized, and prepare for the new year so that your capacity and revenue will increase. This article will change the life of your nonprofit. This isn’t hyperbole, it is the pure facts.

After all, as Alan Lakein states, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Word. It is so true! I have seen this failure happen with nonprofits, businesses, and people time after time (as the great Cyndi Lauper succinctly sings) when they do not plan. Yes, even you as a person should set up a plan for your life otherwise life (and other unfortunate things) just seem to happen.

But how do you even have time for luxurious planning, when you have been on a perpetual shoestring budget, have inadequate staff positions, put in 10 hour days, and are sinking behind major priorities of bookkeeping, providing services for beneficiaries, and answering phones?

How do you go from survival mode to thriving zone?

Just like this.

#A: Schedule the time for planning

First off, you have to make time to plan. The best way to ensure you make that time is to schedule it.  Yep, you might have to put in a Saturday or early morning breakfast meeting or after-hours happy hour planning (you quite possibly may need a strong coffee or a strong drink to get this done). But whatever you need to make it happen – make it happen!

The old adage that we all have the same 24 hours in a day isn’t really an adage, it is a fact. Therefore, stop reacting to what you feel is work-related emergencies and take responsibility of your time. Sound harsh? It might be, but it is true. We all need to take responsibility for our time and planning – even though it takes time – will save you thousands of hours of chasing your own tail in a circle. Seriously. Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog! has a great quote:

“If you have a clear goal and a plan to achieve it, your focus is fixed on a set course of action.  Instead of becoming sidetracked by distractions and diversions, your time is focused on a straight line from start to finish.” ~ Brian Tracy

#B: Have an agenda for your planning time

Okay, you scheduled the time and people showed up, but then you shuffled your papers and went and got coffee while everyone either got on Instagram or checked e-mail because they weren’t sure what to do with the time. Yes, this could absolutely happen. Here are some ideas of how to outline your time to make it amazing and productive.

The format you use really depends on how much time you have and how much prep you’ve already done. For example, have you done your mission and vision review, SWOT analysis, and examined everyone’s “Why” already? (If you have no idea what I just wrote go ahead and listen to those previous podcasts on Grant Writing and Funding or read the articles on  Or are you starting from ground zero?

Either way, I’ve put together a template agenda for you. Go ahead and download it here.

Here is an outline of what is included. As a reminder, the first three you can also listen to previous podcasts or look at previous blogs.

  1. What is your Why?
  2. Mission and Vision Review
  3. S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) Analysis
  4. Evaluate what worked and didn’t work for the previous year (we will go over this more in the next article and podcast)
  5. Outline Goals, Objectives and Activities
  6. Brainstorm and list all resources and partnerships
  7. Take out a calendar and list down usual and new major events, such as fundraisers, crowdfunding, or projected grants
  8. Make a list of all committees required to get each task done
  9. Schedule a monthly (at least) review meeting of the plan

#1: What is Your Why

Why do we start with why? Well, first off you need to know why everyone is doing what they are doing and also this is a great way to really see what people desire and how you can better with others based on their priorities. What about your organizations mission aligns with their personal why? Are they passionate about that work of your organization?

For a list of the four questions to ask yourself and to share with others;

  • What is your main passion of you being connected to this organization (board/organization/beneficiary)?
  • What are your strengths and what do you contribute to the team?
  • What do you want to gain from your commitment to the organization?
  • What change do you want to see by the end of the quarter/or end of year?

#2: Mission and Vision Review

Your mission and vision statement are essential to creating your credibility and directing the culture of your organization. If you are a part of a nonprofit, then you know you need these to file for your IRS Tax-Exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit status. Sometimes you may have just thrown something together to submit for your status, or things may have changed since your organization was incorporated. But, who cares? These are just fancy words, right? Nope. These statements are the backbone to your organization or company, or heck, life.

So why are these important? These statements are the backdrop to all your projects and will help direct what grants or funding you go after. It’s easy. If it doesn’t fit in either your mission or vision, don’t chase it.

Mission Statement

A mission statement describes what a company wants to do now.

Here are three (not so) fancy questions:

  • What do we do today?
  • Why do we do it?
  • What is the benefit?

Ex. “The increase and diffusion of knowledge.” (Smithsonian Institute)

Vision Statement

A vision statement outlines where a company wants to be in the future.

  • What are we trying to achieve and how do foresee getting there?
  • When do we want to do it?
  • How do we want to do it?

#3: The S.W.O.T.

Examining your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is pivotal to the growth of your organization. Why do this analysis? Well, it is very important to conduct an analysis of the current of stage your organization or company and establish where you want it to go. For instance, your organization may get some new grants and expand to a different target demographic. Or you may launch a new product to expand your reach and generate more income. Maybe you just haven’t really analyzed your programs and projects for several years, and the work flow is stagnant. Or possibly you could have high turnover rate of staff and want to mitigate unforeseen or foreseen changes.

The SWOT is best done together as a group on an annual basis. At times, you may just have the SWOT done first by the board of directors, one for managers, and a separate one done for other staff and volunteers. This might be appropriate. But for smaller, grassroots, nonprofits you may want to have everyone in the room and feel valued on an equal level.

What you want to aim for is significant participation. If you have a staff of 200 people, it may be more appropriate to break up the staff into groups, but be sure to share the results.  All you really need to do is to have everyone brainstorm either by themselves, in small groups, or as an entire group. In the beginning it can be quiet, but make sure you have a note-taker as sharing ideas stimulates more and more ideas. It is pretty cool.

This information will let you know what strengths to leverage, what opportunities to strive towards, what weaknesses are around and what to cut, and what potential threats your organization faces and to put contingency plans in place.

#4: Evaluation of what worked and didn’t work

In your S.W.O.T. analysis you will highlight what worked and didn’t work well in the previous year. This is important and allows your team to further examine why and center in-depth conversation for future planning. It’s through this dialogue that you can set up the following:

  • What were the challenges?
  • What contingencies can be put into place to mitigate those challenges?
  • What were the major wins, i.e. what worked and why?

It’s important to reflect in an honest way so that you can better serve your beneficiaries. Invite them to the table in include them in some of this analysis. What better way to learn what is working or not from those you serve!

#5: Outline Goals, Objectives, and Activities

Now that you have done your SWOT and identified what your major challenges and successes were in 2017, it’s time to move into 2018! What are your overarching goals, objectives, and activities to be completed?

Goal: There are many ways to identify your goals, but one simple way is to look at your need and flip it around to create your goal. For example, you may have a nonprofit that is a school that serves deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Your major need was not enough funds for technical equipment in 2017. Your goal for 2018 could be to increase the funding for your school by 200% in order to meet the needs of your students. It is broad, but specific.

Objective: Your objectives would be a step down on the ladder, but be a stepping point to reach your goal. Just make sure your objective is S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. For example:

“By December 31st, 2022 our school will have secured $120,000 in grant funds to supply 100 new computers and other technical required equipment to serve 500 students.”

Activities: Your activities are a breakdown of your objective. You would list activities and even sub-activities for each objective. Also, it is important to include the responsible individuals and deadlines. This chart should be reviewed in your monthly staff meetings. This will create and opportunity to delegate tasks and activities instead of overwhelming the team last minute (and overwhelming them; possibly not getting anything done), team members will be prepared and understand their load for the year.

Activities Person Responsible Deadline
Apply for SAMHSA grant that is due

in July

Grant Team of Executive Director, Grant Lead, Grant Coordinator, Accountant, and ASL expert. June
Apply for Department of Education

grant that is due in March

Grant Team of Executive Director, Grant Lead, Grant Coordinator, Accountant, and ASL expert. February
Apply for Administration for Children

and Families that is due in May

Grant Team of Executive Director, Grant Lead, Grant Coordinator, Accountant, and ASL expert. April
Conduct annual fundraiser in April Fundraiser Committee Meet weekly starting January 15th.
Increase reach on social media by 10% each month Media and Marketing Committee Monthly meetings
Create a crowdfunding campaign Fundraiser Committee &

Media and Marketing Committee

Meet month until June and then weekly throughout campaign starting from June to September.

#6: Brainstorm and list all resources and partnerships

The next step is to make a list of all resources your organization has, including partnerships. For example, how many computers, vehicles, facilities, etcetera does your organization have? Then list how many grants, funds and donations that your organization is due to receive in 2018. I.e. what’s your cash flow? Don’t count potential funding, such as grants that are competitive that you will apply for, but count grants that are re-occurring or annual amounts that you usually receive for your fundraising events. This is of course a projected budget, but it gives a good projection of cash flow. Include in here if you have products or services you sell and what you can estimate to earn.

Next include a list of all partnerships and what they can offer. For example, maybe a company is willing to give your nonprofit a substantial discount in rental costs. Figure out what resources you can leverage.

Finally, figure out what you think you will need for the new year. According to your existing resources and partnerships are you able to meet your need? Are they gaps? If so, what are the resources you need for the new year.

In our example, 100 new computers and technical equipment is needed in the total amount of $120,000. This is specific. Figure out if any of your existing resources or partners can supply anything for your need? Are there tech companies that are donating computers that are still usable? This brainstorming will give your organization focus for the new year and also develops some easy solutions that don’t include writing 50-page grants that may not get awarded

#7: Take out a calendar and list any usual and new major events

Now that you know what you need to do to get to your goals, it is time to schedule it. You may have started to schedule this already when you listed your activities or this part of the session will allow you to detail your activities. But you want everyone to have a calendar – even if it is just a rough draft – for the year. The secret is to section your calendar off into quarters and look at your overall goal and objectives and figure out what you need to achieve each quarter to achieve those goals and objectives.

This is important as it will help everyone be on the same page and to stay focused. By looking at a calendar you may find that two fundraising events are too close to one another or there may be another major event going on in your community at that same time so you can arrange your event strategically to complement the event.

#8: Make a list of all committees required to get each task done

Now it’s time to get those committees in place. You may have noticed that I listed committees for some activities. Make sure everyone knows which committee they are on that complements their skills, desires and their ‘why’. If they are not passionate about fundraising and are on the committee then it might not be a good fit.

On the other hand, if you have a millennial that loves social media, then maybe the best place for them is on the media and marketing committee, where they can take the lead. These committees should serve to empower people and give them leading positions to work in their areas of interest and advance their abilities. I strongly recommend giving out awards to your committee members when they reach their goals and objectives – even if it just bragging rights. People love to feel appreciated.

#9: Schedule a monthly (at least) review meeting of planning

Okay, ready-set-go. I know you are on fire now that you have done your planning and finally feel in control of your year instead of responding to it…but don’t make the fatal error of not scheduling a follow-up meeting. All those deadlines don’t mean squat if there is no accountability to them. Make sure you schedule a meeting – even if it is just 30 minutes to an hour – at least every month to report on status updates. Short weekly meetings of 30 minute are even better as it really will hold people accountable. You can have fun with these meetings, too. For example, by serving ice cream to everyone who reached their weekly goals. But don’t make these weekly meetings drag on for hours otherwise no one has time to actually do their activities.

Okay, there it is. These are nine items that you can put on your agenda for your annual planning. You might even want to break it down to one item per week for nine weeks to take more time for discussion. Or take a weekend to work on it. It really depends on how you are set up. But even if you take a few hours early one morning and do this and then follow up monthly, it really will change your year for the better.

We will be going more in-depth for strategic planning in the upcoming episodes!

Happy New Year!

Holly Rustick

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