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Aly Sterling 12 min read

3 Tips For Creating A Nonprofit Strategic Plan

Nonprofits have big goals for the future. Whether it's to protect endangered species, fight global hunger or increase children’s literacy rates, your organization aims to make the world a better place. However, if you don’t have a clear roadmap for how you’ll achieve this mission, it will be much more difficult to make your nonprofit’s dreams a reality. 

A nonprofit strategic plan can help set your nonprofit up for success. This bold plan of action aligns your goals with your nonprofit’s actions, preparing your organization for the future. As a result, your nonprofit can focus on its most important tasks and navigate through any challenges, even in the most turbulent fundraising landscapes

In this article, we’ll explain how to create a strategic plan tailored to your nonprofit’s unique needs and goals: 

By laying out clear goals, you can sync up your nonprofit’s team to tackle challenges and push your nonprofit closer to achieving its mission. Let’s begin. 

Assess your nonprofit’s current state.

Take a deep dive into your organization’s operations and focus on places for improvement. For example, your nonprofit might be seeing low email engagement rates, which would point to a need to improve your communication strategy. Or, perhaps your organization isn’t hitting its fundraising goals and needs to plan more effective online campaigns. 

Reflecting on your nonprofit’s progress to date isn’t a one-person job. You’ll need all hands on deck to identify gaps in your strategies, so gather insight from various stakeholders. For example, it could be helpful to solicit feedback from the following individuals:

  • Current and past board members 
  • Current major donors
  • Volunteers and staff
  • Recipients of your services

It’s important that your nonprofit takes into account a variety of perspectives, even feedback that isn’t as favorable. This means reaching out to people who’ve expressed discontent with aspects of your nonprofit in the past and have unique ideas on how to improve. Critiques pave the way towards improvement, so use these constructive comments to power change. 

Align your goals and set priorities.

Once you’ve identified changes that should be made, your nonprofit’s team needs to work together to establish priorities. Prioritization is important because it allows your nonprofit to accomplish the most pressing tasks first, which will translate into greater nonprofit success and community impact. 

Let’s say your organization struggles with low fundraising numbers. A top priority would be to bolster your marketing efforts so you can expand your reach and get people excited to donate to your cause. For example, you could take a multi-channel marketing approach to engage different demographics.

Make sure that your priorities can help you achieve your nonprofit’s unique goals. For instance, if you’re struggling to make ends meet, it wouldn’t be helpful to host a costly fundraising event. Instead, an online campaign can help your organization achieve its fundraising goals without having to break the bank to book a venue, catering and entertainment. 

Develop a plan of action.

This step is where your plan for the future fully comes together. According to Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s guide to nonprofit strategic planning, your organization should focus on these elements to act on your priorities: 

  • Action steps: Consider the specific tasks that need to be accomplished for each priority. For example, if your nonprofit needs a stronger digital presence, you might leverage a nonprofit content management system (CMS) or look for volunteers with web design experience. Lay out the exact steps that your nonprofit will take and carefully consider how each step will help you achieve your specific goal. 
  • Timeline/milestones: Setting a date for each of your goals will help you stay on track, as well as milestone dates along the way that you hope to achieve. For instance, in addition to setting an annual fundraising goal, set monthly benchmarks. 
  • Leaders: Delegate responsibilities among your nonprofit’s staff and board members and clearly assign ownership to certain action steps. This ensures that everyone is aware of their role in your nonprofit’s growth. Notify leaders of the associated timelines for their tasks to foster accountability and create urgency. 
  • Necessary resources: Your nonprofit might need new technology solutions, added volunteer support or other resources to achieve its goals. For example, if your nonprofit struggles with fundraising, it would be beneficial to invest in a matching gift software. According to Double the Donation, matching gift software allows donors to easily look up their place of employment and whether they’re eligible for matching gifts, which would increase the impact of their gift. 
  • Future/ongoing actions: Your nonprofit needs a concrete way to check on each of its priorities and ensure progress is being made. Create an accountability system, such as holding regular meetings with leaders, to discuss updates and any roadblocks. 

There are a variety of benefits to creating a concrete plan of action. Your nonprofit will be better prepared to make difficult decisions, overcome obstacles and manage time wisely. Plus, your team will all be on the same page and know their specific role in advancing your nonprofit’s mission. This will lead to greater efficiency and motivate everyone to work towards your goals. 

To optimize your approach to the planning process, work with an experienced fundraising consultant. A third-party professional can provide you a neutral perspective on your nonprofit’s operations and the areas that need improvements. Then, your consultant can help you create actionable steps guaranteed to boost your nonprofit’s reach and revenue. 

A dynamic action plan will give your nonprofit the clarity it needs to achieve its goals. Your organization has likely made great strides in the past, but you can accelerate your growth with a bold plan of action. A roadmap for the future will help your nonprofit delegate tasks, create accountability and rally your team around your guiding principles. As a result, you’ll be in a much better position to drive support for your cause and make an impact in the community.


Aly Sterling

Long before Aly Sterling founded her eponymous consulting firm, she was solving the unique yet similar problems encountered by nonprofit organizations. Her decision to start her own business in 2007 was driven by her belief in leadership as the single most important factor in organizational success, and her determination to work with multiple causes at one time to scale societal change. Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute.