Strategic Plans | AACT

Strategic Plans

Setting goals--and a path to reach them

A strategic plan is a document that helps drive and guide all of the work of your organization. A good strategic plan lays out the major goals and objectives you hope to achieve, as well as the specific steps for reaching those goals and objectives. Think of your nonprofit strategic plan like a flow chart that connects all of the pieces of your nonprofit to each other.

Strategic Plan graphicStandard Planning Model

The standard planning model is best when internal and external conditions are calm and your organization is operating normally. If you are creating your first strategic plan or updating your current strategic plan, you may want to use this model.

Your first step is to define the overall mission of your organization and lay out goals aligned with this mission. The next step is to create a plan to reach these goals--one that includes specific tasks, who is assigned to each task, and a clear timeline for achieving these goals. It's common to create a strategic plan for three or five years at a time. This way, you stay focused on achievable goals while also tying these into a larger picture.

For more details, view "The Strategic Planning in Nonprofits Guide" [source of the circle graph at right], a publication of the Nonprofit Association of Washington.

Other Models

Besides the standard model, outlined above, four other models address specific needs or situations that may apply to your organization.

  • An issue-based planning method can help your organization overcome problems caused by internal changes, such as a change in leadership or high staff turnover that is making it hard to achieve your goals.
  • An organic planning model may be needed when there are external conditions impacting your operations. This type of plan is sometimes referred to as non-linear.
  • The real-time model is used when you're facing an internal or external crisis that requires a shift in normal operations (the recent COVID-19 pandemic, for example). A real-time strategic plan might only remain in place a year or less, depending on the type of crisis your organization is facing, and would supersede any traditional strategic plan that you already have in place.
  • The alignment model is designed to help an organization get all its teams, groups, staff or volunteers back on the same page, so you can be more effective and efficient at reaching your goals.

For more on the various models, visit the Instrumentl website's "How to Write a Nonprofit Strategic Plan."

Final Thoughts

No matter which model you decide to use, keep in mind that your strategic plan is simply about setting goals and creating a path to reach them. Remember, too, that a strategic plan is a living document, and while it's common to create a three-to-five-year plan, it can be changed or updated at any time. In fact, the plan should be reviewed regularly, since the environment within and outside your organization changes constantly.


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