8 Strategic Planning Tools That Organizations Often Use to Facilitate the Strategic Planning Process

8 Strategic Planning Tools That Organizations Often Use to Facilitate the Strategic Planning Process

When organizations are walking through a multi-month strategic planning process with a nonprofit consultant, there tend to be a variety of tools that get pulled out of the facilitation tool belt.

In our work with 1300+ nonprofit organizations, we have found that leaders will often re-use these tools to keep their team thinking critically.

The following are 8 common strategic planning tools for your reference.

1. McKinsey 7S Framework: 

This model assesses an organization’s internal alignment by examining seven key elements: Strategy, Structure, Systems, Skills, Staff, Style, and Shared Values.

2. Balanced Scorecard: 

The Balanced Scorecard framework measures performance using a balanced set of financial and non-financial metrics, ensuring a comprehensive view of an organization’s progress.

3. PESTEL Analysis: 

PESTEL (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, and Legal) analysis helps organizations analyze the external macro-environmental factors that can impact their strategy.

4. Scenario Planning: 

Scenario planning involves creating multiple, plausible, future scenarios to help organizations prepare for various potential outcomes and develop strategies to adapt.

5. SWOT Matrix: 

This tool takes the results of a SWOT analysis and places them in a matrix format to prioritize strategic actions based on the combination of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

6. BCG Growth-Share Matrix: 

This matrix categorizes an organization’s products or services into four quadrants based on market share and growth rate. This helps prioritize resource allocation.

7. Ansoff Matrix: 

The Ansoff Matrix explores marketing growth strategies by considering whether organizations should focus on existing or new products/services in existing or new markets.

8. Force Field Analysis: 

This tool evaluates the driving and restraining forces that impact the success of a proposed change or strategic initiative, helping identify areas to focus on for effective change management.

Final Thoughts

These strategic planning tools offer a variety of approaches to analyze internal and external factors, prioritize actions, and develop effective strategies that align with an organization’s mission and goals. The choice of tool(s) often depends on the specific needs and complexity of the organization’s strategic planning process.

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7 Steps to Lead Your Nonprofit Board Through Strategic Planning

7 Steps to Lead Your Nonprofit Board Through Strategic Planning

In most successful nonprofits, the board requires a refreshed strategic plan every 3-5 years and this can feel like drudgery. But in reality, this is one of the most important ways a CEO or Executive Director can win in their role. 

For the sake of this article, we would like to draw on a metaphor: in the world of nonprofits, strategic planning is like an epic odyssey that shapes an organization’s future. 

As the captain of your nonprofit ship, it is your responsibility to guide your board through this exhilarating journey.  So, giving ourselves over to the metaphor, …grab your compass and don your captain’s hat as we set sail on a strategic planning adventure filled with twists, turns, and unexpected discoveries as you lead your board through this process..

1. Assemble Your Dream Team:

Imagine your board as a crew of intrepid explorers ready to embark on a grand adventure. First things first: assemble a diverse team with a mix of skills, perspectives, and personalities. Just like any epic quest, having a well-rounded ensemble of characters will make your strategic planning voyage more colorful and dynamic. Not everyone on the team will be board members but it is important to have a strong board presence for buy-in.

2. Plot Your Course:

Every voyage needs a map and strategic planning is no different. As the captain, it is your role to help chart the course. Start by setting clear goals and objectives. Picture them as distant shores you aim to reach. With a destination in mind, your board will have a purpose around which to unite. You will also want to instill confidence in the process. That is often why nonprofit captains select a consultant to help them plot the course and guide the strategic planning process.

3. Cast Off the Anchors:

In any voyage there may be anchors weighing you down. These can be old ideas, outdated strategies, or resistance to change. As the captain, it is your job to hoist those anchors and set your ship free. If you have chosen well, your strategic planning consultant will see these obstacles far in advance and guide you through those choppy waves. You will want to encourage your board to let go of the past and embrace new possibilities by using “emotional touchstones” and “this is that” moments as you go. After all, it is hard to sail into the future when you are anchored to the past.

4. Navigate the Storms:

Every adventure has its storms and strategic planning is no different. Expect disagreements, conflicting opinions, and rough waters along the way. As the captain, your job is to steer the ship through these challenges, keeping everyone on board and focused on the destination. Use active listening, pre-meetings and co-creative processes to calm the seas.

5. Keep the Crew Motivated:

The strategic planning process always takes longer than you think. On a long journey, morale is critical. Keep your board motivated and engaged by celebrating small wins, acknowledging their efforts, and reminding them of the bigger picture. Why does this journey matter? Recognizing how their contributions are helping the long-term mission will keep spirits high even during the toughest parts of the voyage.

6. Embrace the Unexpected Treasures:

Just like in a thrilling adventure, you may stumble upon unexpected treasures during your strategic planning journey. New opportunities will emerge along the way that you and your board have yet to consider. This is one of the major gifts of the process as you defeat the Curse of Knowledge. Sometimes, the most valuable discoveries are unplanned.

7. Celebrate Landfall:

Finally, when you reach your destination—your strategic goals—do not forget to celebrate like sailors reveling in the sight of land after a long voyage! Landing a winning strategy is no small feat! Whether it is a small victory or a major milestone, recognizing and celebrating success is essential for morale and motivation.

Final Thoughts

Navigating your board through a strategic planning process can be a thrilling adventure. With the right attitude, a diverse crew, and a clear course, you can turn the process into an epic odyssey that leads your nonprofit to new horizons. So, hoist the sails, set your course, and lead your board on a strategic planning voyage that promises exciting discoveries and a brighter future for the mission and the world at large!

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5 Mistakes Nonprofits Make When Hiring a Consultant

5 Mistakes Nonprofits Make When Hiring a Consultant

In the complex world of nonprofits, hiring a consultant can feel like trying to figure out how to summon a wizard to solve your organization’s most pressing challenges. While consultants possess a particular expertise, nonprofits can sometimes stumble into avoidable mistakes during the process of hiring a consultant for strategic planning, fundraising development, board development, marketing funnels, etc. 

We want to help you think about how to avoid these common mistakes. So for your reading pleasure, let’s take a bit of a lighthearted approach through the five (sometimes entertaining and yet very real) mistakes nonprofits tend to make when hiring a consultant.

1. The “Mysterious Expectations” Mistake:

Nonprofits can often fail to clarify their expectations with consultants. This creates a mysterious and suspenseful atmosphere akin to a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The consultant arrives not knowing if they are expected to perform a grand transformation or merely provide advice. To avoid this blunder, it is helpful for nonprofits to communicate their goals and desired outcomes as clearly as possible. A little transparency can prevent the plot twists that come from mismatched expectations.

Pro Tip:
A good nonprofit consultant can help you figure out exactly what you need before a proposal is ever created because they should be looking to rightsize their services with your needs.

2. The “Magic Bullet” Mistake:

Every once in a while we come across a CEO or Executive Director who believes that a consultant possesses something like a magic wand that can instantly solve their problems. They hope to see immediate results, like a rabbit pulled from a hat. While consultants sometimes think more of themselves than they should, they are certainly not magicians. Real change; deep change; lasting change takes time. Avoid this blunder by setting realistic timelines and understanding that meaningful progress often involves multiple phases.

Pro Tip:
Make sure you are including change management planning into whatever deliverables you are discussing (including timelines and KPIs). You should know when to expect results and the actionable tactics you will need to get there.

3. The “Budgetary Blindspot” Mistake:

Imagine trying to purchase a new Tesla but only budgeting for a Honda Civic. This is similar to the mistake some nonprofits make when looking to bring in a strategic outsider: they attempt to hire a world class consultant on a shoestring budget. To avoid this pitfall, budget realistically for consultant fees and allocate resources accordingly. After all, even “wizards” require compensation.

Pro Tip:
We tend to do our best work with medium-sized-to-larger nonprofits. When you are gathering information from potential consultancies, get a sense of their sweet spot so you are matching your dollars with the firepower you need.

4. The “One-Size-Fits-All” Mistake:

Nonprofits occasionally believe that a consultant who worked wonders for another organization will automatically work miracles for them. It is akin to assuming that Harry Potter’s wand will work perfectly for everyone or attempting a blood transfusion with a mismatched blood type. Every nonprofit is unique and the process or solution for one organization will not work for all.  

Pro Tip:
When you are in the proposal phase, be sure to tailor the consultant’s role, strategies and process to your organization’s specific needs and culture. Be as specific as you can about your uniqueness, what your culture feels like and previous experiences with outside strategic advisors. 

5. The “DIY Detour” Mistake:

Sometimes nonprofits hire a consultant but then attempt to micromanage the entire process. This is like hiring a tour guide and then insisting on driving the bus yourself. Overtaking the consultant restricts their expertise and threatens to derail the process altogether. Relax and trust the consultant’s guidance and let them lead while actively participating in the process.

Pro Tip:
Build trust early, even before a contract is signed. You want to have confidence that the person you are hiring is not only able to be the expert “in the room” but has the attention to detail needed to skillfully manage the process. Ask them to show you how management happens so that when it comes time to release control, you have made an informed decision.

Final Thoughts

In the pressure-filled world of nonprofits, hiring a consultant can be a challenging adventure that involves suspense and potential pitfalls. However, by avoiding these common mistakes nonprofits can ensure a smoother journey toward their goals and moving their mission forward. 

Remember, consultants are not magicians but with the right partnership and approach they can certainly help nonprofits create their own magic in the world of social change. So, embrace the consultant’s expertise, avoid these mistakes, and watch your nonprofit flourish with a touch of professional wizardry!

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3 Strategic Planning Mistakes that Kill a Nonprofit

3 Strategic Planning Mistakes that Kill a Nonprofit

When you are leading a nonprofit organization, strategic planning is the compass that charts an intentional course toward your vision. 

However, like any adventure, it is not without pitfalls. So picture this as a journey like any other journey: While there are high points in the journey and the destination is worth it, the process can be fraught with treacherous terrain giving way to missteps and pitfalls. The best leaders are prepared for the journey and enter fully aware of the most common pitfalls.

So what are three of the most repeated strategic planning mistakes that can spell doom for a nonprofit?


1. The “Frozen in Time” Syndrome:

Imagine a museum exhibit that never changes. Nonprofits that cling to the past, sticking with outdated strategies and refusing to adapt, suffer from what we call the “Frozen in Time” Syndrome. Strategic plans should be dynamic, evolving documents, not relics of bygone eras or outdated tactics. Failing to update your strategies in response to changing culture, circumstances, emerging trends, or evolving donor expectations is a surefire way to stall progress.


The Fix:
Embrace adaptability. Choose a strategic plan that allows for flexibility, knowing that change is inevitable. Regularly review and refresh your strategic plan, keeping it aligned with your organization’s current goals and the ever-shifting landscape of the nonprofit sector. Be open to innovation and encourage your team to do the same.


2. The “Lone Wolf” Approach:

Just as Frodo needed the Fellowship of the Ring to succeed in Mordor, nonprofits require a collaborative approach to strategic planning. The “Lone Wolf” approach, where one person or a select few dominate the process, can be disastrous. It stifles creativity and overlooks valuable input from team members, stakeholders, and even major donors. Excluding voices from the chorus can lead to a strategic plan that lacks depth and buy-in. 

What is the worst version of this? When those “Lone Wolf” voices are unaware they are dominating the process. Not knowing what it is like to be “on the other side of them” ultimately erodes team trust and credibility.


The Fix:
Choose a collaborative process and environment where all team members are invited to contribute their insights, ideas, and perspectives. It is like assembling a “Fellowship” of experts, where each brings their unique talents to the table. Seeking input from stakeholders and major donors is essential to your strategic planning process (and please do not hire a consultant who insists on shrinking the voices at the table!). 


3. The “Shiny Object” Syndrome:

 In many ways, this is the opposite of the “Frozen in Time” Syndrome. 

Imagine an adventurer constantly chasing after shiny trinkets causing them to lose sight of the ultimate goal. The “Shiny Object” syndrome manifests when nonprofits are easily distracted by the latest trend, fad, or fundraising gimmick. While it is essential to innovate, endlessly pivoting without a clear strategic focus can scatter your resources and greatly diminish your impact. Think of it like putting together a puzzle: your strategy and tactics are all formed together as one cohesive whole that needs to fit together in a measured, meaningful and considered way.


The Fix:
Stay true to your mission and strategic objectives. Evaluate new opportunities and trends, including budgeting money toward this evaluative process. However, only pursue opportunities that align with your long-term goals and contribute to your long-range vision. Avoid chasing after every shiny object that comes your way and never waver on the commitment to your nonprofit organization’s core mission.


Final Thoughts

Maybe we are biased, but we think nonprofit strategic planning is a thrilling journey and these three mistakes are treacherous traps. By avoiding the “Frozen in Time” Syndrome, refusing the “Lone Wolf” Approach and steering clear of the “Shiny Object” Syndrome, your nonprofit can chart a successful course toward its mission. So, arm yourself with these insights, navigate the strategic planning journey wisely, and let your organization’s impact shine!

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3 Nonprofit Strategic Planning Templates

3 Nonprofit Strategic Planning Templates

Strategic Planning Summary:

Strategic planning is a deliberate process aimed at shaping the future priorities of a nonprofit organization. It hinges on the active involvement of key stakeholders, such as staff members, significant donors, strategic volunteers, and the board, who collectively evaluate the nonprofit’s mission and vision. The objective is to discern and prioritize the most crucial actions required for advancing these objectives over the next 3-5 years, achieved through the establishment of foundational strategic pillars, objectives, and key performance indicators (often referred to as goals, priorities, or KPIs).

For a nonprofit strategic planning process, these are the two critical deliverables: 

  1. Strategic Plan
  2. Tactical Plan
What is the difference between a Strategic Plan and a Tactical Plan?

A strategic plan and a tactical plan serve distinct roles in nonprofit planning. A strategic plan is a high-level, long-term document that outlines an organization’s overarching goals and strategies, focusing on the mission, vision, and values. It provides a broad roadmap for the organization’s future and is typically reviewed and updated periodically, covering a span of three to five years or more. Often, this document, in its end state, will be beautifully designed, showcased on the website, and used with donors, key volunteers, and influencers to cast vision and belief. 

In contrast, a tactical plan is a more detailed, short-term document that translates the strategic plan into specific tasks and activities. In other words, it’s creating an actionable workflow. It is highly specific, focuses on day-to-day, and is usually crafted for one year or less. Tactical plans provide the actionable steps necessary for executing the strategies outlined in the strategic plan.

In essence, strategic plans set the organizational direction and long-term vision, while tactical plans offer the precise guidance and actions required to achieve short-term objectives, making both types of plans crucial components of effective organizational planning and execution.

Important Insight about  Strategic Planning:

The typical strategic planning process employed by many consultants in the nonprofit sector results in an aesthetically pleasing PDF document that is presented to the board and potential donors. However, most do not include a Tactical Plan that encompasses change management strategies and well-defined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Having a strategic plan alone is insufficient; it must be complemented by a tactical plan featuring clear timelines and measurable benchmarks. When engaging a consultant to lead your nonprofit’s strategic planning process, it is crucial to request examples of tactical plans they have previously assisted in creating.

3 Nonprofit Strategic Planning Templates

At Catapult, we emphasize the creation of winning strategies over mere strategic plans. We believe it is not enough for a plan to merely look impressive on paper; there must be a seamless integration between a visually appealing Strategic Plan that gives a roadmap for success and a well-executed Tactical Plan that ensures success.

To assist nonprofit organizations in this endeavor, below are three templates that have proven valuable for many. 

As every nonprofit organization is unique, with its distinct opportunities, challenges, mission, and DNA, each strategic plan is inherently distinctive. The purpose here is to provide you with 3 template models on how to approach your planning process before delving into the specifics. A visual of each strategic planning model that incorporates both Design and Accountability in included, recognizing that both elements are essential for effectively implementing your strategic plan. 

After all, what good is a winning strategy on paper if there is no effective mechanism to bring it to life?

Catapult Strategic Planning Template
The design blocks of the Catapult Strategic Planning Template:
  1. Vision
    The Catapult strategic planning model begins with the foundational element: your Vision, which represents a distant horizon guiding everything below it. What sets this model apart is its deliberate approach to steering an organization toward a preferred future (vision) with intentionality rather than relying on chance.
  2. 3-5 Year Strategies
    Moving forward, you transition to the 3-5 Year Strategies, which provide high-level summaries of your qualitative and quantitative goals. These serve as a broad roadmap for your organization’s aspirations, giving four foundational pillars for your strategy.
  3. Annual “Keystone” Must Win Goal
    Beneath these strategies, you define one Annual “Keystone” Must Win Goal. This is a unique fixture of this planning process and serves as a clever and sophisticated method for rallying the entire organization towards a goal where every member contributes significantly, exerting an outsized influence on progress across various strategic areas. It operates somewhat akin to a domino effect; once this Annual Goal is achieved, it sets off a chain reaction of strategic progress.
  4. 90-Day Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
    Lastly, you pinpoint your 90-Day Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These represent the specific actions you will take to reach your Annual Must Win Goal, always with an eye towards the larger strategic pillar to which it is attached. These emphasize the importance of measurability in tracking progress and holding team members accountable to advancing the mission.

The accountability mechanisms of the Catapult Strategic Planning Template:
  1. Weekly Check-ins:
    These check-ins revolve around the 90-Day Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and entail KPI owners delivering quick progress updates. The purpose is to keep these items on the front-burner. While a Weekly Check-in is encouraged, the model can function without them.
  2. Monthly Reviews:
    The Monthly Reviews are designed to help team members track progress towards the Annual Objectives and are longer check-ins. Goal owners’ updates contribute to an understanding of how everyone is moving forward and highlight any obstacles that need to be overcome.
  3. Quarterly Refresh:
    During the Quarterly Refresh, the KPIs from the previous quarter are reviewed and the new 90-Day KPIs are established. This phase also involves designating the responsible “owner” for each goal.
  4. Annual Reviews:
    Annual Reviews are likewise centered on the Annual Objectives, occurring at the conclusion of the timeframe. A chunk of time is spent debriefing the learning from the previous goal before setting the new Annual “Keystone” Must Win. These reviews involve a critical decision point regarding whether to mark an Annual Objective as completed or to carry it forward into the next year.
Catapult Strategic Planning Template Summary 

This Strategic Planning Template integrates a vision-driven approach with clear, intentional progression. It begins with the Vision, guiding the organization’s strategic layers. From there, leaders define high-level 3-5 Year Strategies and an Annual “Keystone” Must Win Goal, acting as a catalyst for organizational progress. To ensure accountability and progress, Weekly Check-ins and Monthly Reviews against KPIs and Annual Objectives keep everyone on track. The Quarterly Refresh fine-tunes the strategy in real time, while Annual Reviews provide a crucial decision point for completing or rolling over Annual Objectives. This model combines vision with practicality, creating a dynamic roadmap for a nonprofit’s success. Finally, nonprofit leads are not left to choose between a Strategic Plan or a Tactical Plan that activates your strategy into day-to-day workflow. This comprehensive planning process includes both.

OKR Strategic Planning Template
The Design blocks of the OKR Strategic Planning Template:
  1. Objectives:
    In the context of organizational planning, Objectives represent the specific outcomes that an entity aims for during the current quarter. These objectives are essentially the milestones or targets that define success for that period, offering a clear sense of purpose and direction for the team’s efforts. These are sometimes referred to as lead indicators.
  2. Key Results:
    Key Results are tangible, quantifiable metrics that provide a numerical assessment of progress toward the stated Objectives. These metrics serve as a means of objectively measuring success and tracking performance. Key Results offer valuable insights into the effectiveness of the strategies in place, helping teams make data-driven adjustments as they work toward achieving their Objectives. These are sometimes referred to as lag indicators.
  3. Initiatives:
    Initiatives are the actionable tasks or projects strategically aligned with achieving the Key Results. They represent the practical steps and efforts undertaken to directly influence and contribute to the achievement of desired outcomes. Initiatives act as the operational components of the overall strategy, outlining the specific actions and tactics necessary to make measurable progress and, ultimately, achieve the defined Key Results.
The Accountability mechanisms of the OKR Strategic Planning Template:
  1. Weekly Check-Ins:
    Weekly Check-Ins, integral to the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) management framework, provide a structured platform for meticulous Key Result assessments. Team members should scrutinize their confidence levels in what they are working on, dissect action plan progress intricacies, and exchange insights on overall advancement. This fosters proactive OKR execution, facilitating swift issue identification and timely adjustments. All of this ensures that stakeholders maintain alignment and in-depth awareness of evolving OKR dynamics.
  2. Quarterly Review:
    The Quarterly Review, an evaluation mechanism within OKR, subjects each Objective to an assessment, yielding a numerical “score” (typically 0 to 10) that encapsulates multifaceted achievement status. This process sparks intricate deliberations determining the trajectory for each Objective in the upcoming quarter. This includes refinement, continuation, or discontinuation. This also ensures an agile OKR strategy capable of addressing intricate circumstances and priorities that are regularly evolving.

OKR Strategic Planning Template Summary 

The OKR (Objectives and Key Results) model, as discussed in the points above, is a structured approach to goal-setting and performance measurement. The key to the process is stringent Weekly Check-ins and reviews, which introduces a level of administrative overhead for individuals and teams. One potential downside in the model is the Quarterly Refresh can lead to frequent changes in objectives, potentially disrupting ongoing day-to-day work. Finally, the Annual Reviews require thorough assessment and decision-making regarding the continuation or adjustment of objectives, adding a formalized process to the annual planning cycle.

Balanced Scorecard Template

The design blocks of the Balanced Scorecard Template:
  1. Four Perspectives
    These serve as focus areas for growth for the nonprofit and can be internally focused or externally focused. Sometimes they act as fulcrums for strategy, sometimes they are important projects within the organization that will take several years to build out (such as team culture, new board structure, etc). The perspectives are meant to complement each other in a holistic way and “balance” each other out.
  2. Strategic Objectives
    This is an articulation of the strategy of the perspective it is attached to. This should include specific, measurable outcomes of what success looks like for this strategic objective if progress is being made.
  3. Projects
    The project operates as a kind of workflow for different pieces of the strategy. It outlines the specific initiatives, timelines, ownership and allocated resources necessary to achieve the goals outlined in the strategic objective.
  4. KPIs
    These are the key measurables that are lag indicators of whether the strategic objective it is attached to is moving forward. If the strategic objective has the lead indicators that the plan is working, the KPIs are the more granular measurables that indicate all of the work will tip the scale for the strategic objectives success.
The accountability mechanisms of the Balanced Scorecard Template: 
  1. Strategy Dashboards
    This offers an invaluable tool for keeping everyone in the loop, enabling you to visualize real-time progress and keep an eye on your key objectives, projects, and KPIs effortlessly. Preferably this would be mapped out and trackable through a project management platform like Monday, Asana, Trello, BaseCamp or whatever your nonprofit is currently using.
  2. Weekly or Monthly Reports
    These reports provide a structured way for team members to share their progress updates and lay out short-term action plans, fostering collaboration and transparency. Typically these can be downloaded from your project management platform, turned into a PDF, and shared with the wider team. In a meeting setting, this includes commentary and status updates from the owner of the action items.
  3. The Strategy Map
    This serves as a visual compass, revealing the interconnectedness of the four perspectives and the cause-and-effect relationships between your strategic objectives. This is meant to guide your organization towards a more cohesive and effective strategy implementation.
Final Thoughts on Strategic Planning

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of starting a strategic planning process with the nonprofit you help lead, we get it! It’s an important time in the life of any nonprofit and it can be a difficult journey. We would love to help you find a guide for that process. Whether that is Catapult helping you lead this journey or pointing you to a better fit, we would love to serve you.

Want to hear more about our Strategic Planning process for Nonprofits?

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