Strategic Planning: A Path to Success by Guest Contributor Dan Prater of BKD CPAs and Advisors

One of the most important jobs of a nonprofit board is to craft a strategic plan that keeps the organization focused and on track toward mission accomplishment. A thoughtful, properly executed strategic plan can transform an organization and help unite team members toward shared priorities.

Here are seven considerations for planning success:

1. Commit to the Process 

It takes time and resources to develop an effective strategic plan. If the board and senior leadership aren’t willing to take a hands-on approach or allocate necessary resources to the process, it won’t work. From initial planning to the board retreat and writing of the plan, the process requires an investment. Make sure your entire team is ready and fully committed to the process.

2. Use an Integrated Approach 

Strategic plans are successful when they’re developed with the whole operation in mind. An effective plan ties into and directly supports other aspects of the organization such as programming, human resources, finances and marketing. Each component leads to the fulfillment of stated goals and outcomes within the strategic plan.

3. Let Evidence Guide You

In the early stages of the planning process, compile a packet of facts and figures relating to your organization’s focus area. Your work is too important to be based on anything but credible evidence. Every decision made about programs and services should be based on trustworthy sources, not on anecdotal information or hearsay. Your data packet might include stats on poverty rates, demographic changes, crime reports, health reports and your program metrics. The packet should be read by all planning participants and used in decision making.

4. Seek Multiple Perspectives 

Organizations can become myopic, losing the ability to view their work from a broader perspective. To avoid this shortsightedness, make your planning process inclusive. Involve representatives who have a stake in your program’s success, such as school representatives, law enforcement, business leaders and even other nonprofits. All have a vested interest in your success and can bring a balanced perspective to your work. In addition, when other stakeholders have a say in developing your path forward, they’re much more likely to have buy-in and offer support once it’s being implemented.

5. Build from the Bottom 

The foundation of your organization is built on 1) a clear and focused mission statement that explains what you do, 2) belief statements that describe the values on which you operate and 3) an aspirational vision statement that provides a concise and vivid image of the world you’re trying to create. These essential elements should be developed (or refined) in the earliest stage of the process. All other plan components are driven by these and come later. Every strategy and activity should be built upon and ultimately lead to accomplishing your mission and vision.

Although strong mission and vision statements don’t change often, they should be revisited periodically. Changes in demographics, the economy and other areas can cause your statements to become obsolete and ineffective.

6. Share Responsibility

There’s a tendency, especially in smaller organizations, to assign all of the plan’s tasks to the executive director (possibly the only paid employee). Avoid doing this. Assigning dozens of new tasks to an already overloaded person is a surefire path to failure. A well-balanced plan spreads responsibilities evenly, not overloading any one person. Board members must work alongside staff and have an active role in carrying out the plan.

7. Execute with Openness 

The success of your plan requires accountability and honesty. Avoid the “dusty shelf” syndrome by revisiting the plan’s goals and outcomes at each board meeting. Hold one another accountable for progress. Are you reaching your benchmark indicators of success? Are adjustments needed?

Nonprofits are accountable to a variety of audiences. First and foremost, they’re accountable to the community and individuals who rely on the organizations’ important programs and services to help make life better. Second, they’re accountable to their donors, fulfilling a promise to make good use of precious resources. And third, they’re accountable to each other. Staff and board must hold one another responsible to do the work with integrity and excellence.

In a world of ever-increasing demands for services and limited resources, you can’t afford to get off track or lack focus. When done with excellence and intention, a strategic plan could help invigorate and unite your organization toward mission success.

© 2019 BKD, LLP

Guest Contributor: Dan Prater of BKD LLP

About BKD, LLP: In a nutshell, we’re a national CPA and advisory firm that can help you reach your goals. We have 40 offices in 18 states, with trusted advisors who offer solutions for clients across the country and beyond.

Our expertise goes well beyond the standard accounting services to include risk management, technology, wealth management and forensic and valuation services. Our clients represent a wide range of industries, and we’re even part of an alliance of firms that gives us a global reach.


Marc is Co-Founder and Principal Advisor of The Global Center for Nonprofit Excellence. For the previous 12 years, Marc served full-time as executive and practitioner in three significant yet very different Nonprofits overseeing extensive domestic and international operations.