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Strategic planning

The importance of nonprofit strategic planning in uncertain times

Strategic planning during uncertain times may seem like the last thing your nonprofit wants to do or should do. But it is times like now (pandemic, political transitions, etc.) that your leadership and board should make strategic planning a priority.

Why should we put together a strategic plan now? Shouldn’t we wait?

First, it is important to understand what your strategic plan is (and isn’t). Your strategic plan is a set of measurable goals, objectives and tactics designed to help your organization achieve its long-range vision and aspirations for the future. It’s not a substitute for your annual goals and plans, which support your strategic plan and include things you want to accomplish over the year.

Planning, whether short-term (annually), strategic (2-3 years) or long-range (3-10 years and beyond), is something that your nonprofit should be doing regularly. Just because we are dealing with a once in a lifetime pandemic doesn’t mean that process should stop.

In fact, now is the perfect time to engage in the strategic planning process. Why?

• The pandemic likely forced your organization to embrace a strategic mindset. You’re ready.
• Your long-term goals may have changed.
• The future will always be uncertain. A pandemic hasn’t changed that.
• Your team needs to know where it is headed. A pandemic hasn’t changed that either.
• This too will end. You want to be ready for what’s next.

For more information, check out our “Practical Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning,” designed to help you and your organization better understand the strategic planning process, its role in your organization and how to implement a plan successfully.

The pandemic likely forced your organization to embrace a strategic mindset.

Last year likely forced your team to think more strategically than ever. You probably had to pivot, restructure, think more creatively and take time to fully assess everything you do to ensure your organization remained viable. That type of thinking helped prepare your organization for strategic planning because you are already in a strategic mindset. Your leadership team and board had to make decisions based on uncertainty and develop scenarios given different types of situations. You had to look at current operations as well as where you wanted the organization to be in months and years to come.

Your long-term goals may have changed.

There is no question that 2020 changed things for nonprofits, businesses and individuals. Some organizations saw greater impact than others. If the pandemic changed your organization’s long-term vision, a strategic plan would help focus that vision and put it into perspective by outlining strategies to help you get there in less time.

The future is always uncertain.

The phrases “uncertain times” and “unprecedented times” make my head hurt. Yes, we’ve gone through a lot during the pandemic, but nothing in life is ever certain. I learned a great lesson from Anjua Maximo, a life and health coach, and a panelist on one of our webinars. She said that the future is always uncertain whether we are in a pandemic or not. When we set goals, we never know what will happen in the future. That cannot stop us from trying to achieve new things and accomplish big goals. I loved her analogy. It is so applicable to us in life and work.  

Click here to watch our webinar on “Resilience for nonprofit professionals” with Anjua Maximo and Dr. Tracey Yaeger from Portage Path Behavioral Health.

Your team needs to know where it is headed.

The best way to gain the confidence of your team is to provide them with direction on where they are headed. This is true all the time, not just during a pandemic or other crisis. You as a leader must have a plan that outlines not only the vision, but the action. When you do, your team will know what is expected of them and will help you achieve those goals. Understanding where you are headed also gives your team hope that your organization will be sustainable in the future.

This too will end.

I’m an optimist and see there will be a time soon (before the end of 2021) where we feel like our lives are more stable and that we can make decisions that aren’t based on COVID-19. Yes, this too will end, and your organization needs to be prepared. You should seriously consider investing now in the strategic planning process, whether it is tweaking your current plan or developing a new one. You will likely see greater rewards in a shorter period of time than those who wait until things open up from COVID-19.

I applaud you and everyone in the nonprofit sector for the amazing work you have done in 2020. It is likely, and completely understandable, that your organization may be “tired” right now. Nonprofits have carried a great burden in 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021. Your organization has probably seen increased needs for services, reduced funding, program changes and even staff reductions. The thought of engaging in more high-level work may seem exhausting.

Know that the work you do is important and that strategic planning during uncertain times is one of the best things you can do for your organization AND the people you serve. Keep up the great work and know that you are appreciated!


Want to learn more about how our Dot Org Solutions consultants can help with your strategic planning?
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