What makes something a “strategic” plan?

January 20, 2016

Filed under: Strategic Planning — jonathanpoisner @ 10:50 am

What do we mean by strategic planning in the nonprofit context?

In my mind, there are three key distinguishing characteristics.

First, it’s long term.  Certainly more than a year.  It might be as short as 2 years.  For most nonprofits, it generally runs 3-5 years, though I’ve heard of organizations with 10 year strategic plans.

Second, it embraces the entire organization, across functions   It covers your program (the ways you’re trying to change the world) and your institutional capacity.  One test to know if it’s comprehensive:  for any significant activity of the organization, you should be able to point to what part of the strategic plan that it fits within.

Third, it answers a series of big questions about the organization.  Put in the simplest terms these questions are:

  • Who we are?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How do we get there?
  • How will we know if we’re successful?

That’s it.  I’ve seen strategic plans as short as 3 pages and as long as 50 that meet these tests.  What’s right for your organization, of course, depends on many factors.

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  1. Jonathan, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt is a terrific read. He says that the essence of strategy is cohesiveness, which I have found to be a useful framework.

    Comment by Peter Wilcox — May 20, 2016 @ 8:12 am

  2. Thanks for the suggestion Peter. I enjoyed reading Good Strategy, Bad Strategy a couple years ago. In the nonprofit context, I saw his book as mostly what I would refer to as “positioning,” which can be an important element of a strategic plan, but just one aspect of it.

    Comment by jonathanpoisner — May 23, 2016 @ 11:52 am

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