How Strategic Planning Affects the Success of Your Nonprofit

3 minute read

David Hutchinson, President, Cause Leadership

Strategic plans identify actions that enable you to achieve your organization's goals and mission. These plans often pinpoint high-priority directions and goals. Then, they determine the steps needed for meeting these goals and indicators used to measure success and are usually established for three to five years.

In this article, we assess how a strategic plan:

  • Keeps a nonprofit grounded in its goals and mission
  • Enhances accountability and responsibility through actionable plans
  • Tracks progress towards your nonprofit's goals and why this is important

1. Organizations concentrate on their mission & goals

Strategic planning is necessary for organizations to remain committed to their goals.

A strategic plan will clarify your organization's mission, vision, and goals, which will form a basis for making critical decisions.

The various departments within a nonprofit can use the organization's goals to create work plans. These will help the department realize its objectives and eventually realize the nonprofit's vision.

2. Set measurable goals

The goal-setting process should involve all levels of staff. Proper goals include actionable plans and accountability measures. There are many ways to set achievable goals, but you ought to pick one that will guarantee the highest levels of success.

One of the most popular strategies for setting goals is SMART.

SMART is an acronym that stands for:

  • Specific - Your goals should have specificity regarding timelines, locations, and any other variables involved. You can execute this step by answering your goals' who, what, where, when, which, and why.
  • Measurable - This looks at tangible outcomes to show evidence of progress towards your nonprofit's goals. Your goals should be quantifiable. It enables you to measure your success in stages.
  • Attainable - This describes a goal reached using existing interests, knowledge, and skills. Your goals should be achievable soon, with resources currently in your possession.
  • Realistic - Is your nonprofit's goal within reach? This measure ensures the nonprofit and staff can work towards the set goals.
  • Time-bound - Your nonprofit's goals should have a defined timeline that includes start and end dates and any milestones in between.

Having a good strategy increases your nonprofit's chances of attaining its goals. It also provides employees, donors, and volunteers with a framework to work with and keeps them motivated throughout the process.

3. Understand who is responsible for each goal

Know who contributes what at which stage of the organization's plan. Assigning responsibilities and duties also creates accountability among all employees.

The responsibilities start from the CEO and executives who are ideally responsible to:

  • Create organizational principles for the nonprofit and develop long-term and short-term goals. Set strategic priorities. They determine which goals need to be achieved first and prioritize them according to urgency.
  • Develop departmental performance indicators which track the progress of each department of the nonprofit.
  • Individual contributors and donors can help create work plans with milestones. These drive the daily focus towards significant goals.

Strategic plans are successful when staff at an organization have clear responsibilities.

4. Produce realistic action plans for each goal

An action plan describe how a nonprofit can meet its goals. It outlines actionable steps and how and when an organization should take them.

Apart from detailing how an organization can realize its goals, an action plan can also:

  • Give the organization credibility, which shows donors and stakeholders your commitment to implementing strategies.
  • Ensure there is no oversight in the organization's efforts to realize its set goals.
  • Help establish an organization's shortcomings when doing certain activities. An organization is then able to re-strategize.
  • Ensure your nonprofit organization runs efficiently.

Doing regular follow-ups on the action plan is essential. It ensures that everyone in the organization is working towards the set targets.

5. Track progress towards goals

Nonprofits should have strict processes to measure success and progress as they achieve their goals. These will ensure focus and commitment in strategy execution.

Some of these tools include progress meetings, which can be held quarterly or annually.

Quarterly review meetings will bring together the heads of specific departments. They share updates on progress, shortcomings, lessons learned during the quarter, and anything that needs changing.

Annual Review meetings are held once a year and are necessary for an extensive yearly review of a nonprofit's strategic plan.


Strategic plans help nonprofits achieve success by clarifying missions and goals. They also strengthen a nonprofit's identity while guiding its future decisions.

Having an action plan is necessary if you wish to see your nonprofit's goals come to fruition. It guides daily decisions that will only set your organization up for success.

When you track progress towards goals, you can identify and expect challenges.

A strategic plan can be the key to the success of your nonprofit. It provides guidance, self-knowledge, and decision tools. It can also help your organization adapt to unpredictability.

David Hutchinson is the president of Cause Leadership, a firm specializing in executive search for nonprofits. Since 1997, he has successfully placed senior-level candidates with a broad spectrum of organizations in the charitable sector. He also has a great interest in helping charitable organizations diversify, become younger in their leadership, and better represent their own clients.


Explore more resources for nonprofit strategic planning.

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Organizational Development
Strategic Planning