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Which Kind of Strategic Plan Should You Develop?

A strategic plan is an essential roadmap for any nonprofit organization. Regardless of mission or size, strategic planning must include four fundamental activities:

1.   Situational analysis, sometimes called a SWOT or Discovery
2.   Reviewing the mission, values, and vision statements for updating or refining
3.   Establishing goals and objectives
4.   Creating a 12-month action and implementation plan

At GCN’s Nonprofit Consulting Group, one of our goals is to be responsive to our customers’ needs, creating plans that fit the particular mission, size, and culture of each organization. We want to make sure the strategic plan is a living document, which means making sure it’s adapted to thrive in its unique environment.

We’ve found that certain strategic planning methodologies work better for certain types of organizations, depending on a range of factors like life-cycle stage or management priorities. Each of the five different methodologies we use contains the same four fundamental components, with some important distinctions in definitions, templates, and steps. We work with leaders at each organization to help them select the best type of strategic plan to meet their needs, laying out the options, and their practical ramifications, in detail.

Those different types of methodologies are referred to by the kind of plan they produce. In brief, those plans are:

Facilitated strategic plans, most commonly used by organizations that are younger or smaller, with focused missions, few programs, and limited time (and personnel) available for extensive planning. This method works well with highly-engaged boards (for instance, where many board members are also volunteers helping run programs).

Results-based plans, for organizations that want to demonstrate a return on investment, based on the outcomes measurements they spell out in their goal statements. Each goal has a target, a timeline, and a scheme for how it will be measured. Mechanisms for accountability and progress, like a theory of change, are important cultural assets for organizations using this approach.

Balanced Scorecard plans, providing a framework for planning, execution, and evaluation based on measures in four quadrants: mission, internal processes, organizational capital, and financial. A for-profit tool adapted for nonprofits, the Balanced Scorecard plan ensures that an organization addresses all resources needed to run the business effectively: what we need to accomplish for our clients and stakeholders (mission), what we need to do internally to be effective in the marketplace (internal processes), what kind of people and technologies we need to drive our business processes (organizational capital), and what monetary resources we need to meet our mission (financial).

Sustainability plans, for organizations facing ongoing financial concerns or reoccurring deficits due to a lack of revenue. These plans work well when a course-correction or intervention is needed to turn around the organization, or when the board and staff are first challenging themselves to move toward a longer-term vision.

Strategic Business plans, best suited for organizations that finance themselves with earned income or a social enterprise. This kind of planning combines standard strategy development with financial projections for anticipating future growth in revenue and expenses.

Considering a new strategic plan? Find out more about the methods outlined above, and the possibilities they could open up for your organization, by contacting the Consulting Group at 678-916-3082 or [email protected]


Kathy Keeley is EVP of programs, and a senior consultant, at GCN.

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