30 May 2019

What is Strategic Planning? Steps to Design a Strategic Plan

Strategic planning for nonprofits has a lot in common with playing with Lego’s®. Like in building with Lego’s, all the building blocks of strategic planning are equally important and are used to build wonderful creations. In the nonprofit business there are a lot of unorganized parties with good intentions that can be compared to a handful of colorful Lego® bricks on the floor. When those pieces come together through an organized system following a purpose they can construct impactful and long-lasting programs.

LEGO’s®: A Building Block Analogy for Nonprofit Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is a system that allows organizations to identify a goal or direction in order to design strategies, allocate resources, and make decisions to pursue this goal. There are important steps to design a strategic plan that nonprofits and governments can take. Solid research, data capture, and analysis are used to support the designed strategies for mission advancement.

The Keys to Success for Strategic Planning

The keys to success for strategic planning consultants is their listening skills. Consultants must to listen to stakeholders in order to materialize their ideas with strategic plans to reach their desired objectives that fulfill the organization’s mission. The following are top strategic planning steps that organizations can take in order to have the most successful strategy planning and development.

  • Determine the key stakeholders that hold influence both on the organization’s operations and its growth and success.
  • Approach organizational success first by examining internal operations.
  • Focus on understanding how decisions are made and operational functions are performed before changing anything.

The initial process of listening and learning is important for understanding strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that may be underneath the surface and out of sight. Once the strategy has been developed through an interactive and collaborative process, a nonprofit is in a position to begin to focus on improving how external stakeholders perceive their clients with the following four tools:

  1. Image and Brand Development
  2. Community Relations Advancement
  3. Press and Media Relations
  4. Cause Marketing

Underpinning the above four focus areas of strategic plan advancement is the creation of data metrics and research measurements to track the influence that a nonprofit or government entity has on accomplishing its mission. It is important to track results through in a way that is highly accessible and often cloud-based. Organizations are wise to establish the following features of a tracking system (not exhaustive):

  • Implement progressive improvement standards that expose what tactics needs to be revised through a rigid tracking system.
  • Use collected data reports to advocate for strategic growth through grant writing or a fundraising development campaign.
  • Organizations publicize reports, articles, and develop marketing materials utilizing the data that has been analyzed.
  • Examine public policies, legislation, and community support to look for trends and opportunities for mission advancement.
  • Determine the anticipated and real impact of efforts at the local, regional, state, and national level as applicable.

This is not an exhaustive review of the steps necessary to design a strategic plan, but any nonprofit could benefit from moving toward a comprehensive strategic plan that incorporates some or all of these ideas and keeps the fulfillment of their mission at its core.


Matt Visaggio is the founder and principal of Visaggio & Co. He is passionate about his work and loves seeing his clients succeed and grow.

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