Ep 4 – How Nonprofits Use Strategic Planning to Accomplish Missions

PodcastCoverArtIn this Lead. Learn. Thrive. podcast episode, Raffa’s Tom Adams and the University of Maryland’s Dr. Rob Sheehan discuss how nonprofit organizations use strategic planning to achieve their missions. Leadership and strategy complement each other. Effective leaders know where they are going and more importantly have built that sense of direction with their team and community of stakeholders. 

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Strategic Planning and Mission Impact: What’s the Secret?

Dr. Rob Sheehan, Academic Director of the Executive MBA program at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business

It is easy to get frustrated and stuck with strategic planning. Most organizations take on big challenges with many parts and no obvious solution. Too often strategic plans are updated goals based on what we did last year, voluminous documents ignored after completed or never get done.

Leadership and strategy complement each other. Effective leaders know where they are going and more importantly have built that sense of direction with their team and community of stakeholders. No matter how charismatic or effective the leader, there are limits to what any one of us can do.

Here are five important principles for making your organization’s strategic plan a tool for aligning leaders and the team and knowing whether what you are doing is making any impact:

  1. Begin with the mission and how you measure success in achieving it – The mission becomes real when we agree on the metrics we will use to measure progress. If we want to eliminate hunger in our community, how do we measure progress? Sometimes work on the mission metrics results in a changed or more focused mission.
  2. Define the mission gap and 4-5 goals to close the gap – Explore with your team what the ideal state would look like if you achieved your mission 100%. Be as concrete and specific as possible. The difference between this ideal and your current reality is your “mission gap.” Next, set three – five big strategic goals which, if you accomplished them in the next three years would help close your mission gap as effectively as possible. (View The Power of Goals for more info on goal setting.) With these goals in mind, look at your internal strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats in the external environment. Consider how to leverage your strengths, fortify your weaknesses, seize your opportunities, and block your threats. This will help you develop strategic themes that will guide you into the future.
  3. Establish annual work plans which are guided by the strategic themes – This framework allows you to then develop a more detailed annual plan. This plan lays out how you will advance the goals and work to close the mission gap this year. This may include attention to programs, fundraising, staff development, collaboration or other strategies deemed critical to your success.
  4. Summarize, implement and review – Ideally you can communicate to everyone involved your mission, mission metrics, mission gap, goals to close the gap and your strategies and annual goals to advance the mission in a one to two page summary. You will learn as you implement. Review progress against the desired results regularly and adjust the plan as you go.
  5. Make the plan an organizing tool for board meetings, job descriptions and annual performance goals and reviews – The best way to get the most from the plan is to make it central and board and staff discussions. This can be done by organizing the Board agenda around the goals and efforts to close mission gap and by using management and staff meetings to review and advance the plan and job descriptions and performance reviews to connect the plan with each employee.

For more details on this approach to strategic planning, see Mission Impact: Breakthrough Strategy for Nonprofits.


The Lead. Learn. Thrive podcast series grew out of our Raffa Learning Community effort and features interviews with interesting nonprofit and private sector leaders and those who help them Do More. If you would like to suggest a topic or a guest for an upcoming episode, please email jimena@raffa.com and include “podcast” in the email subject line.

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