How to write a simple strategic plan for your small charity
As a leader in a small charity, sometimes future planning and strategising can fall to the bottom of your very long to-do list. But, strategic planning is vital to the success and sustainability of any organisation. If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you plan how to get there? Devising a simple 3-5 year organisational strategy for your charity is a great way to ensure you are focused on what you really need to do to achieve your long term goal.
Strategies can be very long and complex, and in larger organisations the strategising process can take months, or even years. That is not necessary in a small organisation, so don’t bite off more than you can chew, keep it nice and simple.
Step one – do a Theory of Change
Theory of Change (ToC) is a method used for planning and evaluation for social change. In a Theory of Change you define your long-term goals first, then map backward to identify the necessary preconditions and actions required to achieve those goals. Ask yourself, ‘What is the long- term change we see as our goal?’- you may have more than one. There is a great template for creating your Theory of Change here.
Step two – do a SWOT analysis
What are your organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? Think of it as follows:
Strengths – GO (e.g. we have a very passionate and engaged Board of Trustees)
Weaknesses – INVEST (e.g. we don’t have any full time staff)
Opportunities – EXPLORE (e.g. we know someone who may be a great Trustee/volunteer)
Threats – MINIMISE (e.g. bad news in the press about charities, how can we avoid this threat?)
Be honest with yourself and try to include more than one person from the organisation when conducting your SWOT analysis. How about involving a beneficiary or service users too?
Step three – get the basics down
The first section of your strategy should be an introduction to your charity’s work; a brief history and background of how your work came to be, your vision, mission, objectives and values. This may also be a good chance to re-assess your vision and mission statements – are they short, succinct, memorable and powerful? Check out some great examples of vision and mission statements for inspiration.
Step four – decide on your objectives for the period of your strategic plan (usually 3 or 5 years)
From your Theory of Change, you should have developed an idea of what you need to do over the coming years to achieve the long-term change you identified as your goal. Choose 3-5 objectives to work towards in the next 3-5 years.
You could have one or two overarching strategic themes and then 3-5 objectives, for example:
1. We will take a beneficiary centered approach
2. We will consider sustainability in all we do
1. Invest in building the capacity of our team of staff, volunteers and Trustees to best support our work
2. Conduct a community consultation and participatory planning session with key stakeholders to ensure we are listening to our beneficiaries and responding to their needs
3. Review and refine all programmes to ensure they are effective, efficient and creating long-lasting impact on the lives of our beneficiaries
Step five – identify success measures/Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
How will you know you have succeeded and achieved your objectives? When will you plan to have met these objectives? For each of your objectives answer the following questions:
What are our measures of success/KPIs and when will this be measured?
Objective 1: Invest in building the capacity of our team of staff, volunteers and Trustees to best support our work.
Step six – create your action plan
This is often the most flexible part of your strategy. It is the part that you can use to help stay focused, keep you from being overwhelmed, and make sure that you stay on track with your goals.
Break down your objectives and goals into quarterly manageable chunks so that you can get started on putting this plan into action. Plan to “re-plan.” Once you know more, you can plan more. Come back to this action plan at least every few months to check in on your progress.
One last thing…
The final thing to do is to put this strategy and plan into action. Having spent valuable time creating this strategy, don’t let it sit in a folder on your computer, unused. The most important element of any strategy is that it is actually used in practice. Try to remind yourself of your strategic objectives regularly and ensure you don’t fall foul of ‘mission drift’ or ‘strategic drift’.
If you have any questions about strategic planning or would like help with your own strategic plan, feel free to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.