One of the first things you will be doing as a new nonprofit is visioning, strategizing and planning. You will formulate your vision and mission and you will prioritize a few strategic directions. This process is called strategic planning. As a result you will have clarity on the desired future you want to work for, your approach and unique role in contributing toward that desired future and your priority areas of work for the coming two to three years. In this post we will look at strategic planning in 8 simple steps.


While your vision and mission will likely remain (at least roughly) the same through the years, your strategic directions will change over time. This is the result of external and internal factors. For this reason you need to review your strategic priorities every few years. Every time you do this, you can make a multi-annual work plan, too, elaborating how you will actually work on your strategic priorities.


Defining your strategic directions is the result of research and analysis you do during a certain period of time. You will research the context in which you will work towards your vision. What does this look like now? What are political, economic, social and technological aspects of today’s reality for your community and you? It is important to research this properly, through desk research and interviews with people concerned and experts. Try to move away from what you think is true and look for facts and evidence, as well as stories. See what trends you can discern.

Become a fortune teller

Based on your research into the context and trends, try to develop scenarios for what might happen in the coming years. What are developments that are about to enter a new stage? What legislation might be passed soon? See if you can find experts who might tell you their expectations for the next years. Check if trend watchers have observations that might help you develop a picture of the coming years.

Your community

Once you have a clear idea of the context, look closer to home. Go and ask the community you serve about what they see as pressing needs. Identify some key stakeholders and invite them to a meeting or an interview and pick their brains. Once you have identified the main pressing needs, look at what is causing these needs. Check for relations with the context analysis you did.

Your vision

Which of the information you researched and which of the pressing needs and causes identified are aligned with your mission and vision and values? If you have collected needs that are outside your scope, see if you can share them with another organization that might be better placed to address these. Do not feel that just because ‘your people’ told you about a need, you must solve it yourself.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Finally, look at yourself, at your nonprofit. Do you have everything in place to be effective? Do you have all expertise, skills, knowledge, networks, and systems you will need for smooth and impactful operations? If not, formulate one strategic direction that focuses on your organizational development so that you can better serve your community at the end of your strategic planning period.


Now you have one strategic direction focusing on your nonprofit itself. Especially if you are just starting out, I would recommend formulating maximum two more, focusing on your work toward your vision. If this is your first strategic planning exercise, focus on a horizon of three years maximum. Much will change in that first period, so it is good to review sooner than the more usual four to five-year period which more established organizations use for their strategic planning.


Once you have your strategic directions formulated, you elaborate a strategic plan document with your analysis of context, trends, pressing needs and causes as well as your analysis of how well-placed your organization is to address these issues properly for the community it serves, and how this might be improved.

Go validate

The final step, before detailing a work plan and getting to work, is to validate your plan with your community; with the people you aim to serve. Share your process with them, show them how their contributions are reflected and how their pressing needs are addressed. Check with them that your priorities are also those things that for them are key and most pressing.


And hey presto, now you have your strategic plan ready in 8 simple steps!