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Strategic Planning: 5 Steps on the Journey of Organizational Discovery

In ancient Greece, the pilgrimage to Delphi was a powerful and moving journey of self-discovery. Travelers asked the Oracle of Delphi to answer their deepest questions and make predictions about the future. Yet at their journey’s end, they found the words “Know Thyself” inscribed at the Temple of Apollo. The message was clear: The answers to many of life’s greatest mysteries lie within.

Know thyself. These are fitting words for any nonprofit embarking on a strategic planning process.

Your plans for your organization’s future should be firmly rooted in your purpose, your reason for being, and the benefit you offer to the world.

That’s why Benefactor Group’s strategic planning process stems from a spirit of appreciative inquiry. While we don’t shy away from problematic areas that need to be addressed, our focus is on identifying and leveraging your strengths to propel your nonprofit’s mission and vision forward. 

Here are five steps we’ll walk you through as part of our robust and well-structured strategic planning process.

1. Assess the Mission, Vision, and Values that Guide Your Strategic Direction

Your organization’s vision, mission, and values are the foundation of your strategic plan. These core components should guide all the decisions you make — from programmatic choices to staffing decisions. Be prepared to evaluate and revise these principles during the strategic planning process.

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Begin by assessing your organization’s vision.Your vision is the “thing” your organization is working to achieve. It’s called a vision because you should be able to see it in your mind. Your vision guides your strategic direction. Everything you do should be in service to achieving it.

A goal like this can seem intimidating or even unachievable. That’s okay. If you are a foodbank and your vision is to end hunger in your community, that may seem impossible, but it’s still your “why.” It’s the fuel that animates your team. Setting intermediary milestones can help your stakeholders understand how you’re moving toward your vision, even if you’re not there yet.


Your mission should describe how your nonprofit will achieve its vision. It should describe the actions you will take and the impact you will have. As part of the Discovery process, evaluate your organization’s mission. Does it meet that measure? Is it relevant and purpose-driven? Does it capture your nonprofit’s work today? If not, revising your mission statement will become an essential part of your planning process


Finally, think through whether or not your nonprofit’s culture is infused with a set of values that guide your day-to-day behavior. If your current values are vague — or if you haven’t assessed them in quite a while — now is the time to define or refine them. 

Together, your vision, mission, and values should become the North Star that guides each strategic decision you make.

2. Invite Stakeholders to Participate in the Discovery Process

Unlike a personal pilgrimage, organizational discovery is not a journey to experience alone. You need the benefit of multiple perspectives to help you see opportunities and challenges you’re unable to discern on your own. To that end, make it a priority to thoughtfully engage a variety of stakeholders in the planning process. 

Your stakeholders are the individuals or groups that have a vested interest in your nonprofit’s success or failure. This could include staff members, board members, donors, volunteers, and the constituents you serve. Give members of each group a voice as you consider where you are now and your strategic direction in the future. Involve your stakeholders through one-on-one conversations, focus groups, surveys, workshops, and retreats.

At a minimum, ask stakeholders to provide insight into:

  • Their perceptions of your nonprofit’s reputation in the community
  • How well they feel you live out your mission and vision
  • What they see as your strengths and weaknesses
  • What inspires them to support you philanthropically, volunteer, or invest their time and talents
  • Their hopes and dreams for your nonprofit’s future
  • What obstacles do they see as impediments to reaching your goals

Stakeholders should be encouraged to be open and honest when sharing their thoughts. After all, you want to get an accurate picture of where your nonprofit stands — and that requires you to ask thoughtful, deliberate questions and listen objectively to what participants have to say.

Engaging an objective third-party like Benefactor Group to facilitate this process may allow stakeholders to provide insights more candidly than they would otherwise. A consultant can also compile the results of conversations, focus groups, and surveys and highlight common themes that inform your journey.

3. Evaluate Your Programs in Light of Your Mission and Vision

Another important part of strategic planning is taking a step back to analyze your programs. Think broadly about everything from constituent-focused services to solicitation appeals, events, and giving programs.

Are these programs effective and impactful? Do they align with your mission and vision? Are they driving your nonprofit forward? 

There are a few ways to assess your programs. A common method is to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Also, evaluate each program against your organization’s core values. For each program and activity, ask:

Your goal should be to identify the programs that are most successful and look for ways to build on them. You may also discover that there is a need to change or discontinue a program. When making these decisions, it can be helpful to remind your internal stakeholders what you can accomplish by removing non-impactful activities from your proverbial plate.

The strategic planning process is about ensuring your nonprofit can effectively further your mission for the long term. Sometimes, that means making tough choices to achieve a greater impact elsewhere.

4. Create Measurable Objectives

Your strategic plan will ultimately only be as relevant as it is useful. Relevance comes from knowing your organization’s distinct assets, thinking about the future, and crafting a plan that accurately reflects the unique qualities of your sector and your nonprofit.

To make your strategic plan both relevant and useful, establish SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals to keep your team focused and accountable.

For example, depending on your nonprofit’s unique situation, you might set goals around:

  • Rolling out new programs and initiatives to better serve your constituents’ needs
  • Increasing the number of members, clients, or other constituents you serve 
  • Attracting new annual, middle, and major donors
  • Strengthening your culture of philanthropy by introducing initiatives that involve internal stakeholders in cultivating and stewarding donor relationships
  • Launching a capital campaign tied to the transformational impact your nonprofit wants to make in the community

Hold yourself and your team accountable by laying out deadlines, clearly defining who is responsible for what, and establishing a regular cadence of check-ins and communication to review progress.

5. Allocate Resources to Fuel Your Strategic Plan

After you’ve set your measurable objectives, it’s time to determine how you’re going to achieve them. This is where good old fashion project management and resource allocation come in.

For example, if one of your goals is to significantly increase gift revenue, you may need to hire development officers. If you want to become a more data-driven operation, you may need to invest in new software or other technology. Similarly, if you desire to expand services to reach a certain number of new clients, you might hire additional staff or invest in targeted professional development opportunities for your existing team.

All of these items are “deliverables” that must be completed in order to achieve your objective. And, for each deliverable, you must define the tasks necessary to complete it, how long they will take, when they will happen, who is responsible for them, and how much they will cost (if applicable). If you can address those items, you have a sound plan.

Benefactor Group Can Help You Create a Strategic Plan that Propels Your Nonprofit Forward

While no planning process has the benefit of the Oracle of Delphi, a relevant and useful plan can be prophetic. At Benefactor Group, our goal is to support the development of your strategic plan that can be a catalyst that drives your mission forward for years to come.

Throughout the process, we’ll:

  • ​​Emphasizes building on organizational strengths
  • Perform thorough discovery that helps you understand who your organization is today
  • Facilitate meaningful discussions that develop consensus from stakeholders and key groups
  • Moderate the creation, modification, or re-affirmation of organizational vision, mission, and values
  • Help your nonprofit craft objectives, measures, initiatives, and tactics that bring your plan to life and identifies the necessary resources 
  • Ensure your fundraising plan is rooted in your long-term strategic direction
  • Create an implementation timeline and a process to track progress

Learn more about our methodology in our comprehensive nonprofit strategic planning guide. Or, simply reach out. We’d love to walk alongside you on this important journey.

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