Strategic Planning 101 for Associations and Non-Profits

All organizations strive for growth, progress, and success.  An essential component to that success is a well-thought-out strategic plan.  This provides an organized approach to setting long-term goals and outlines the steps needed to reach those goals. Strategic planning can help an organization set realistic and attainable objectives, anticipate challenges, and identify resources that may be needed to reach their goals. A strategic plan, when shared with staff, helps ensure that all employees understand their roles in achieving the organization's objectives. Additionally, it provides a framework for leaders to make decisions and assess progress over time. All in all, planning strategically can be a huge advantage for any organization looking to move forward productively and efficiently.

What are the steps for developing a strategic plan?

Broadly, strategic planning typically involves these five steps:

1. Assess the current situation. This involves reviewing your organization and understanding its strengths, weaknesses, resources, opportunities, and challenges.

2. Set goals. Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely (S.M.A.R.T). It is common for goals for short-term, mid-term, and long-term periods should be identified.  These goals can then be prioritized as to criticality to the organization’s objectives.

3. Develop strategies. Strategies are action plans that outline how to reach the established goals. Budget, impact on staff, time, costs, and criticality must be considered when developing the action plans.  

4. Implement strategies. Teams to implement the strategy should be developed at this step, involving both internal and external parties as needed and assigning roles.  This step also includes assigning tasks to team members and taking necessary steps to put the strategy into action. 

5. Monitor progress. Evaluation of performance regularly allows the ability to adjust as needed in order to remain on track with reaching goals.

How does this apply to professional associations and non-profits?

Professional associations and non-profits can benefit greatly from strategic planning as it helps them reach their goals with greater efficiency and focus. Additionally, by engaging staff in the planning process and establishing clear goals for employees to strive towards, professional associations and non-profits can foster collaboration, motivation, and a sense of unity amongst their teams. Ultimately, strategic planning gives these organizations the opportunity to maximize their resources while reaching their desired objectives.

How long does it take to develop a strategic plan?

The amount of time it takes to develop a strategic plan varies greatly depending on the type and size of organization, the complexity of their operations and goals, as well as the resources available. Generally, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months; large and complex organizations may take longer. During this time, organizations must assess their current situation, set realistic goals, develop strategies for achieving those goals, and implement the strategies with feedback loops in place to track progress. The length of time also depends on how often the organization plans to review and adjust its strategy.

Who should be involved in the strategic planning process?

Strategic planning should involve all stakeholders from the organization including executive staff, managers and supervisors, employees, and key advisors. It is important that each person’s perspective is considered as it will help ensure a more informed and comprehensive plan. Additionally, having all participants engaged in the process can help increase cooperation among teams and ensure buy-in from everyone involved.

How does technology fit into the strategic plan?

Technology plays a critical role in strategic planning, as it can enable organizations to compete and succeed in a rapidly changing environment. Technology can help improve operational efficiency and effectiveness, empower decision-makers with data-driven insights, and enable organizations to better understand member and customer needs and preferences. Additionally, technology can also help identify cost savings and new revenue opportunities through automated processes, improved analytics capabilities, and innovation enabled by new tools. Furthermore, using the right technology can help ensure compliance with regulations, reduce time spent on manual tasks, and provide an additional layer of security for businesses.

Considering the current technology and determining if it is adequate for current needs and future growth is a key area for exploration in developing the strategic plan. 

Who should approve the strategic plan for the association or non-profit?

The approval of the strategic plan for association or non-profit is typically given by the board of directors. It is important for the board to review and approve any changes so that they can ensure the organization’s objectives are met. Additionally, they should assess any potential risks associated with the strategic plan and make sure that the proposed goals are achievable and aligned with the organization’s overall purpose and mission. Once approved, the strategic plan must be communicated to all stakeholders to ensure buy-in and support.

Who is accountable for achieving the goals of a strategic plan for an association or non-profit?

Typically, the executive director or CEO of the organization is assigned by the board of directors to be  ultimately accountable for achieving the goals of a strategic plan for an association or non-profit organization. The board should be responsible for setting objectives and measuring progress, as well as providing final approval of the plan. To ensure accountability, roles and responsibilities are assigned to key staff and/or external stakeholders who are responsible for executing on the plan.

How do we measure progress towards the goals of the strategic plan?

To measure progress towards the goals of the strategic plan, organizations should develop a timeline with specific milestones and benchmarks. This timeline can be developed in consultation with relevant stakeholders and should include measurable goals that can be tracked over time. Additionally, organizations should set up regular check-ins where they review the timeline and evaluate the progress made towards each goal. Organizations may also need to adjust their goals or objectives based on feedback from stakeholders or changes in external conditions. It is important to regularly review the timeline and make necessary adjustments to stay on track with achieving their strategic plan goals.

How can we implement Agile practices as we execute the strategic plan?

Agile practices can be integrated into the execution of the strategic plan by adopting an iterative approach. This means breaking down the plan into smaller, more manageable goals and working on them piece-by-piece. Additionally, Agile methods prioritize flexibility, meaning that the organization should be open to changing the plan as needed in response to feedback from stakeholders or external conditions. To ensure accountability throughout this process, organizations can establish regular check-ins where progress is measured and adjustments are made if necessary. Finally, it is important to develop a timeline with specific milestones and benchmarks so that progress can be seen over time.


The strategic planning process for associations and non-profits is an ongoing cycle of evaluating the organization's situation, setting objectives, developing action plans to achieve those objectives, and continually reviewing progress. During this process, stakeholders can be involved and consulted throughout to ensure that everyone’s needs are considered. Additionally, the organization can set up a timeline with specific milestones and benchmarks so that progress can be tracked over time. Wherever possible, organizations should adopt Agile practices such as breaking down the plan into smaller goals and continuously monitoring costs to better manage resources and make necessary adjustments along the way.

If you need help developing or updating your strategic plan, it is a good idea to consult an experienced and qualified professional. A consultant can help identify potential obstacles and work with you to devise creative solutions to overcome them. They can also offer insights into more efficient ways of allocating resources so that the organization’s goals are met without over-extending its budget. A consultant can provide valuable advice and objective guidance on the best practices for creating a successful strategic plan.

Get Started With Your Strategy's IT Policy

As you consider the technology aspect of your strategy, don't forget to create or revise your IT policy to reflect it. Need help? Download our free Ultimate IT Policy List for Associations today.

Download the Ultimate IT Policy List for Associations

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