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What Makes for a Good Nonprofit Strategic Plan?

A recent Wall Street Journal opinion column by Auburn University at Montgomery professor Wyatt Wells opines that strategic plans are a waste of time. You can read that column by clicking here.

It would be easy to discount Wells’ diatribe since he is “only” a history professor. And yet, he makes some salient points. From his perspective strategic plans are merely watered-down, limp dishrags enabling any organization to “succeed” with undistinguishable, or even no, outcomes. He cites very valid examples to support his opinion. But his examples are really just products of poor strategic plans. No wonder he doesn’t like them.

When it comes to nonprofit organizations, I believe a well written, bold, united strategic plan is the keystone to success. Success in fulfilling missions, in fund raising, and in recruiting and retaining talented employees and volunteers.

A great strategic plan should embrace these five components:

  1. Broad and diverse opinion/perception gathering,
  2. Comprehensive analysis of the “4 M’s” – Mission, Market, Management, and Money,
  3. Inspirational, but achievable and quantifiable goals,
  4. Accountability, and
  5. Timely, systematic review.

Unfortunately, Mr. Wells and his fellow cynics have not experienced what great strategic plans can accomplish. They do not have to be complicated, but neither should they be a sugar-coated, feel good enabler of the status quo. When done right, the strategic plan unifies an organization’s board of directors, CEO, staff, and donors into a singular force generating success.

About Harry Warner

Harry Warner brings 35 year’s professional experience in leadership, business development, and managerial effectiveness in both the corporate business and nonprofit sectors, with areas of specialty including nonprofit management, fundraising, strategic planning, marketing, and financial administration. Harry believes that strong corporate-community relationships are key to an organization’s success. He remains actively involved in the nonprofit and fundraising community at both the local, state and national level.