What is Strategic Planning?

by Floyd Rumohr

Executive directors are likely to hear the term “strategic planning” ringing in their ears from board members, funders, and other organizational stakeholders. But what exactly is it? Confusion over what it is and what it isn’t can leave a well-intended founder flummoxed and early career executive directors scratching their heads.

The nonprofit strategic planning process is borrowed from the for-profit world that uses it to, among other things, allocate time and money for a business that sells a service or product. Just like with for-profits, divvying up human and capital resources is essential at nonprofits. Perhaps more importantly, strategic planning helps organizations describe who they are while identifying potential new directions in program development and where they want to go.

Since neither time nor money tend to be in abundance in the nonprofit world, strategic planning processes that are adaptive to change will help executive directors, their boards, and other key members of the team remain fluid as new information becomes available. This is true unless your organization wants to waste what is precious to it — namely its time and money! Who really wants to do that? Nobody. But it happens a lot. Often because strategic planning isn’t thought of as a component of financial, time, or even human resource management.

Thinking of it from a resource perspective might help to illustrate why strategic planning is an important activity of boards since they are ultimately responsible for budgets. Who wouldn’t want to fend off resource hemorrhaging or other symptoms of struggling strategic leadership such as an organizational identity crisis or lack of an institutional direction in which the board, staff, and stakeholders are engaged?

Nine dimensions are described in the following blog entries as a crash course in the basics of strategic planning:

#2: Vision and Mission

#3: Core Values

#4: Goals and Objectives

#5: Environmental Factors Affecting Nonprofits

#6: Competitive Advantage: City Ballet and ABT

#7: Logic: Ins and Outs of Enterprising Nonprofits

#8: Evaluation: Bridging Inputs with Impact

#9: Alliances and partners

I like to think of them as “dimensions” because each can be thought of as a property of the physical space in which planning and implementation ultimately occurs. Many of them require vivid language and written goals and objectives to track performance.

Two additional blog topics are included for busy nonprofit professionals and those who care about them:

#10: Relationship to Development & Fundraising

#11: Tips for Creating Your Plan

Let’s get the strategic planning conversation started!

Next up: vision and mission.

  1. Nycanuck said:

    Good post Floyd!

    • Thanks! Please keep the comments/questions/thoughts coming and don’t hesitate to suggest topics of interest.

  2. This is very helpful, now with-in this process could you said that this take place before of after a capital investor injection? How you know which is first? raise money before strategic plan or strategic plan to raise money?

    • Thanks for the comment, Raul! Generally-speaking, I recommend that the broader strategic dimensions of vision, mission, and core values be established before raising capital because knowing who and what you are organizationally is a good basis from which to identify investors and donors. This holds true for nonprofit and for-profit companies.

      The topic you raise is so important that it will have it’s own blog entry as part of the strategic planning series: #10: Relationship to Development & Fundraising. So keep an eye out for that! Since yours is a for-profit business, “Development & Fundraising” can be substituted for “investment capital” or whatever is comfortable for you. The strategic principles are pretty much the same though you’ll find big tactical/operational differences between for and not-for-profits.

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