The small non-profit’s guide to strategy and planning

[Publisher’s note: The Philanthropy Journal does not necessarily endorse the opinions, products or services offered or cited in this paid advertorial.]

By John Carroll

If your organization received a $5 million unrestricted gift out of the blue, would your board of directors instantly know to which programs they would direct it?

Or would there be lengthy discussions and disagreement about organizational priorities?

With a solid strategy and implementation plan in place, the discussion would be brief and the champagne soon flowing.

A building, an endowment and operating funds are all means to one or more ends.

It’s those ends — the desired outcomes for which your organization exists — that cry out for attention and articulation.

Simple steps can help your organization, no matter the size, begin this critical planning process.

Ask yourself: “Where do we want our organization to be in three years? In five?”

Describe your organization in terms of the products, services or programs it provides at that future date.

Add in the number and type of people required (board, paid staff, volunteers).

Consider the physical facilities required. Add income for expenses and investments.

If you’re angling for growth, have good reasons, such as demand in your community.

Growth for growth’s sake results in the downfall of many an organization.

You may opt instead for better rather than larger.

Once you’ve decided where you want to be, break the big pieces down into smaller, bite-size pieces.

Establish annual milestones, then break those down into specific action tasks which can be completed in 12 months.

Be sure to assign responsibility to individuals and a completion date for each action.

Be sure to make accountability a regular item on your board and/or staff agenda.

Plans that adorn shelves tend to gather dust rather than attract people, resources and support.

Plans that are opened, regularly referred to, and periodically revised with new information act as a catalyst for continued progress toward your goals.

John Carroll is the director of strategic planning, Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS)Custom Development Solutions, Inc. is a full-service fundraising consulting firm specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  Clients include the Salvation Army of Greenville, S.C., CARE Canada, Newberry College and many other cultural, educational, health-care and religious organizations.  For more information, visit or call (800) 761-3833.

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