After you’ve created your mission statement, you need to shift your focus to the implementation of your mission. To do that, you will make a strategic plan. Writing a strategic plan for your non-profit is a huge (read: yuuuuuge) part of the start-up process. I choose to focus on it early on to help you avoid annoyance later on down the line when you realize you’ve gone way off mission or don’t know what the heck is going on with your programming. Trust me, this happens and it’s not pretty.
You don’t HAVE to follow every single one of these steps in order. In fact, when my non-profit first started out, we were just winging it and hoping everything worked out. When we sat down and wrote out our plan, we found that we were actually on track and doing a great job. It ended up just being a nice thing to have written out and to use as a way to see how far we’d come in such a short period of time.
I’ve worked for many non-profits that did not have a strategic plan. Or, if they did have one, no one looked at it regularly. This lead to mission drift, choosing programs for the “prestige,” and, worst case scenario, staff leaving because they had no idea what their role even was for the organization. Often these were well-established organizations.
This means you should give yourself a little wiggle room to grow as an organization. It might make sense to write your strategic plan out now, maybe just 2-3 to start. Or you might say, let’s try out a few of our programs, then circle back in 3 months to determine some goals for the organizations. Choose what works best for you. Just don’t forget to write it down soon, or you may end up 2-3 years down the road with a completely different organization than you started out with.
What is a strategic plan?
When you first hear strategic plan, you might think it’s a business plan. Oh no, you’re not a business, what does that have to do with you? Ok, calm down. A strategic plan and business plan are two different things. And while you should have both (I’ll explain why you need a business plan in a later post), a strategic plan focuses on creating a strategy or plan for achieving your mission.
What is included in a strategic plan?
When I first started out with evaluation and strategic planning, it was overwhelming. Especially the craziness that is the terminology. Mission vs vision, goals vs objectives, outcomes, action planning??? What were all these things. Luckily, I’ve since figured it all out and can now explain it to you in a way that makes sense.
Here’s what is typically included in a strategic plan (*disclaimer… nearly every site is going to have some variation of this list, the below is my personal favorite way of strategic planning):
Mission – In my last post, we used Top Nonprofit’s mission statement definition – “one-sentence statement describing the reason an organization or program exists and used to help guide decisions about priorities, actions, and responsibilities.”
Goals – These are essentially statements of what you want to achieve. They need to contribute toward your mission statement in some fashion. An example might be if your mission statement is to provide Pre-K students with an opportunity to learn science, one goal might be to train Pre-K teachers on hands-on science learning.
*Note – the terms goals and objectives seem to be used interchangeably, or only goals are used, or only objectives are used, by various parties. This is my preferred usage of the terms that makes the most sense to me.
Objectives – These are your are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-sensitive) statements of what will done. For example, if we use the goal above of training Pre-K teachers, your objective would be “Provide 25 pre-K teachers with a hands-on workshop in science learning before the 2016-2017 school year.” The more detailed, the better in this case.
Strategies – This is how you’re actually going to implement your mission, goals, and objectives. Using the above objective, you might come up with a few strategies such as these:
- “Develop pre-K teacher workshop materials.”
- “Identify school partner as host for workshop.”
- “Create hands-on activities for workshop.”
Extra, Bonus Items for Your Strategic Plan
The above is what I think you have to have to make a strategic plan successful – what you want to do, how you want to do it, when it needs to be done by and who is going to do it. Below, I’ll share a few little extras that are nice to have, but by no means necessary, especially if you are brand-new or crunched for time.
This is an acronym that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. As an organization, you take a look at your strengths (things you are good at), weaknesses (things you are not so good at), opportunities (things that you don’t do yet, but could be doing), and threats (things or organizations that are not good for your organization). This is a great document to have internally as a reference and to help focus your organization on doing what it does well, correcting anything that can be better, identifying new opportunities, and being aware of negatives in your community.
Many organizations now have a values statement on top of their vision, mission, goals, objectives, etc. It sounds like a lot, right? I think the value in value statements (see what I did there?) is in their way of packaging your big ideas into memorable snippets for donors and other stakeholders. Some folks start their statements with “We believe” or “Our organization believes,” while others have a list of values and a short description of their importance. This is a nice to have document, but it can wait.
And now that you’re completely overwhelmed, I’ll end here. Yes, it’s a lot, and yes, it does take patience and hard work to do, but a strategic plan is essential for ensuring your non-profit is on the right track. In the next part of our series on non-profit start-ups, I’ll tackle the how-to of facilitating a strategic planning session – major hint, bring snacks!