Nonprofit Operational Manual

Home Acknowledgements

Strategic Planning

The most important deliverable and implementation tool you are required to develop as an organisation is your strategic plan. A strategic plan is a document that detailes your disciplined steps for arriving at key organisational decisions, priorities and agreeing on actions that will shape and guide your organisation on what, why, when and how to meet its vision and mission. A good strategic plan takes the vision and mission approved by the Board and translates it into an overarching plan that the Board must approve before implementation.

Too often we have seen many nonprofits running without a written strategic plan as the Founder or Executive Director seems to have it all written in his or her head. A written strategic plan is an important document that should be publicly available to all staff, beneficiaries and critical stakeholders. A written strategic plan serves the following purposes:

  1. Serves as an accountability tool for measuring the organisations implementation of its vision and mission
  2. A basis for which to develop annual organisational work plan and budget against which organisational progress can be measured.
  3. Forms the basis for decisions to allocate and source for resources both financial and human.
What should be the life span of a strategic plan?
We encourage well established organisations to plan for at least 5 years. Small and medium sized organisations are advised to plan for 3 years. Smaller, newer or less financially secured organisations may find it more useful to have an annual work plan instead. Note that a strategic plan is a living document and should be revisited annually to reflect new developments that may have taken place over the years. See for a sample of NNNGO’s strategic plan.

10 Key steps to strategic planning and questions to consider
Step 1: Preparatory phase Step 2: Decide on the scope of work Start this step with discussions around what the organisation must do and other things that it must not do. This conversation must be driven by legal laws, own organisation policies/governing document, agreement with donors/partners or stakeholders.
You can use the following questions to shape the discussions:
How to do a stakeholder analysis
Step 3: External Scan Note that this questions are best framed based on the organisations aims as outlined in its governing document and what it is legally bound to do given its mandate and scope of work identified in step 2.

Step 4: Internal Review A SWOC analysis (strength, weakness, opportunities, constraints) can help in achieving this.

Step 5: Identifying strategic issues
Activities from steps 1 to 4 help to arrive at what strategic issues the organisation should focus on as by the time these steps are completed attention would already be focusing on the real important issues, major choices facing the organisation, areas needing change and insights about how to resolve them.

Strategic issues are best written or framed as questions as this will highlight areas where the organisation needs to make choices and decisions. The aim, scope of work, external and internal environment scan and the results of the SWOC analysis will help shape the strategic issues.

In framing the issues, the following questions will need to be answered:
For example an organisation working on family planning has noticed an increase on the number of people not able to access family planning in communities across their state of operation. A trends analysis suggests that this is likely to increase given the budgetary allocations to family planning by the State in the last 3 years. The organisation already supports 2 communities out of about 700. Opportunities to expand their support to other parts of the state are constrained by funding and adequate human resources.

Strategic issue: Given our existence in the 2 communities out of 700 and our dwindling funding situation including lack of human capacity, should the organisation develop its work further to be able to expand to at least 100 communities?

Step 6: Defining Strategic Aim
By now you would already have a long list of strategic issues, it is important to start narrowing them down at this stage to three or four. The following strategic questions will help in achieving this.

In the end you want a list of issues that are still relevant in the next three to five years ahead stated while accurately stating what the organisation wants to do and how it intends to do this during this time.

Using the strategic issue in Step 6 to form an aim, we could frame a strategic aim like this: To improve access to family planning services among 100 communities in XYZ State, working in partnership with the local CBOs and the State Government.

Step 7: Define the strategies
Strategies are the “roads” the organisation plans to take as it works towards achieving the strategic aim identified in step 6. It defines the big picture and priorities over the coming three to five years. Key questions to be considered are outlined below:
An example of strategy to help realise the strategic aim in step 6 could be:

Strategic aim:
To improve access to family planning services among 100 communities in XYZ State working in partnership with the local CBOs and the state government.
Step 8: Identify resource needs
As soon as the strategies are identified for each of the three or four strategic aims or priorities, working out what the human and financial elements needed to achieve the plan over a three to five year period is an imperative. These serve as a strong foundation for the development of an internal capacity plan (step 9) and costing of the strategic plan (step 10).
Key questions to consider for the financial resources element are:

Key human resources questions to be raised include:

Step 9: Internal Capacity Building Plan
The internal capacity building plan helps to specify which areas the organisation needs capacity and how this will be addressed. Usually the capacity gaps would have emerged from discussions during the SWOC and possibly when discussing strategies to achieve a specific aim. Where it happens the issue of capacity is mentioned under a strategic aim, it is important to ensure that it is linked directly to that aim and not separately.

Step 10: Costing the Strategic Plan
At this stage this is where issues around budgeting come in. This step focuses on the amount of money needed to implement the strategic plan. Here the inputs required for each strategy in terms of people, equipment, services and materials are identified and costed. Costs can be categorised into recurrent office costs, management costs and direct programme costs (e.g. workshops, research and advocacy costs etc). The organisations income needs to be assessed to identify existing funds or pledged and gaps or new areas that are not funded. The gaps in funding should be translated into a fundraising strategy.