Think Big: Strategic Planning for Small Nonprofits

strategic plan npo
Strategic planning is crucial, especially for small nonprofits. It's an important process used to make critical decisions to help achieve an organization's goals. Strategic planning for small nonprofits is an important step to help keep the team focused on growth. 

It outlines your intended impact and theory for change. How do you plan on living out your mission, and what will be your measure of success? Small and large nonprofits may have vastly different plans as they are in two different stages of their organization's life. 

One could focus more on growth while the other may be putting more effort into research or program alignment. Whatever your goals are, you must understand what a strategic plan is and how to make it work for your organization. 

What is Strategic Planning?

As mentioned above, a strategic plan acts as a compass for finding success, but it's more than that. It should also include the potential obstacles that you could face along the way and any factors that could impact your progress. A thorough analysis needs to be done on your nonprofits with the following in mind:
  • Internal capabilities
  • Full program costs and requirements
  • External threats and opportunities
  • Trends in the community and industry
A nonprofit strategic plan is often a written document that can be used as a resource for new staff or funding partners to understand its goals and objectives.  Consider creating your plan with your team and your stakeholders, which provides well-rounded input and buy-in, which is critical for success. Normally, plans cover 2-5 years, but with so much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, you could shorten it to 6-12 months and adjust accordingly. 

However, a strategic plan should not be a one-time activity. People often fall out of the habit and forget about their plan, but it should be reviewed regularly and updated to keep you moving forward. 

What Is The Strategic Planning Process?

1. Long-Term goals: What do you want to achieve in the next 3-5 years? Consider discussing this with your stakeholders to get a good variety of perspectives. 
2. SWOT analysis: Most groups start with a SWOT analysis to determine the organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Plan to build upon your strengths and opportunities and limit risks around your opportunities and threats. 
3. Identifying Available Resources: What is needed to meet your goals? Think about what you need to make your dream come to life, and this may also mean removing certain programs to make way for new ones. 
4. Short-term goals: What has to happen within the next 6-12 months that will help achieve your long-term goals? 
5. Action Plan: How is the plan going to be executed? What will success look like?

The Small Nonprofits Alliance and Strategic Planning for Small Nonprofits

We recently interviewed Bianca Crocker, Founder of the Small Nonprofits Alliance,  for an upcoming episode of our  Fundraising Superheroes, and she had a lot of advice for small nonprofits on strategic planning and execution. 

On Creating Your Nonprofit Strategic Plan

She suggested that organizations focus on a smaller strategic plan, as that's really all you need. "A lot of people have this perception that (strategic plans) it needs to be a 20 or 30 page document or more. That's going to guide their organization or guide their fundraising planning. But in my experience, the simpler you can make these documents, even if it's a fundraising plan that's a few pages long or it's a strategic plan on a page, those sorts of concepts are really, really important because they help you distill the real critical points down. You don't want to create a document that nobody has time to review throughout the year."

Bianca made it clear that strategic planning for nonprofits doesn't have to be stressful or take a ton of your time. Working with her clients, the goal is to create a business plan that is concise and easy to understand. 

Small and mid-sized nonprofits have different needs than larger organizations, and so they shouldn't be intimidated by the work they're doing. Bianca explains, 

"Strategic plans that come out of big consulting agencies and things like that, and they're really big documents, but that's not necessary. You can separate your operational plan out so that doesn't need to be in there."

On Planning During the Pandemic

Things are constantly changing regarding COVID, and the policies that we need to follow vary depending on where you are. As we continue to make strategic decisions, it's important to keep in mind the ever-changing landscape of the world we're in. 

Bianca suggests doing this by creating a strategic plan for the next 6 months to a year instead of the usual 1-3 year plans. A vast majority of small and large nonprofits have learned to adapt to the current circumstance, which is great, but we still have a long way to go. 

She shares, "I've just recently done some work with an organization where we actually just created their strategic plan for a 12 month period.
Often you might do more than that. But in these current times, the 12-month strategic plan is probably plenty because we don't know how quickly the world's changing at the moment. But we do that, and we did a workshop around it. And we created a one-page plan, which obviously didn't have a huge amount of detail to it, but it has the main pillars around what they need to do, what their focus is and what their plans are at a high level to achieve their goals."

What Should Organizations Strategic Planning Include? 

A strategic plan normally consists of five key components: a vision statement, a mission statement, goals and objectives, an action plan, and details on how often the strategic plan will be reviewed and updated. When developing your plan, it's important to clearly define your key problems and goals and how you want to measure success. 

Bianca encourages you to stay focused on being flexible, "So being strategic about what you want to do and how you're going to raise money for your organization is a really important aspect, I think, of being successful as a small nonprofit or as any nonprofit, really. So it really means being proactive, I guess, and purposeful about what you do. And I think during the pandemic, obviously, it's been a really tough year the last 12 months or so for many people and businesses, not just charities."


Planning for nonprofit organizations is critical, especially now. Whether you're a small to mid-sized nonprofit, you must sit down with your team to discuss your organization's future. 

If you're looking to increase your fundraising in the upcoming year, we would love to help! Get in touch with the team at Driven to learn how to use your data to reach more supporters and raise more funds while saving hours of your time. 

To learn more about Bianca's work at the Small Nonprofit Alliance, visit her at

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Leadership Mar 5, 2021, 12:00 AM

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