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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How can effective strategic planning help nonprofits navigate through disruption?

Rope bridge over a chasm

Strategic planning for nonprofits involves the process of identifying overarching goals and objectives for growth. Researchers state that each element of this process is connected to another and leads to a unique outcome. Nonprofit leaders need to identify the guiding principles of strategic planning that prepares them for recovery when faced with disruptions.

Variations of trends contribute to disruptions, leading nonprofit CEO’s and executive directors to look at their leadership team and create an effective strategic plan. This grouping of nonprofit leaders creates what is referred as a “leadership cohort.” Leadership cohorts must lean on each other’s strengths to innovate and identify the group idea for their strategic planning process. The strategic planning process must consider various elements, such as the amount of time needed and whether or not a solution has been identified to meet the desired outcome. 

Leadership cohorts must adopt adaptive leadership tactics to achieve outcomes while also building in flexibility for on-the-fly recovery in times of disruption. The role of adaptive leadership is to change the direction of growth for nonprofits, while upholding its primary goal of survival. Leadership cohorts must commit to ongoing evaluation, reflection and adaptation to inform their tactics within an ever-changing work climate. In remaining both structured and fluid, an effective strategic plan is capable of keeping an organization afloat while navigating through unforeseen instances of disruption.

Steps for effective strategic planning

  1. Identify the organization’s leadership cohort. Nonprofit CEO’s must work collaboratively with the board of directors, as well as the Vice president and chief staff. These leaders are responsible for building an effective strategic plan. Their goal is to meet the operational needs of the organization, while also meeting the expectations of stakeholders. Stakeholders include staff, volunteers, community members and donors.
  2. Determine direction for growth. Leadership cohorts must determine how the nonprofit organization will grow. It is important they consider the context of time and identify best practices within their organization. When determining the direction of growth, the leadership cohort must limit their vision for the upcoming 1-3 years.
  3. Utilize adaptive leadership. Leadership cohorts must utilize adaptive leadership as a platform to facilitate a strong balance between strategy and action. This ensures day-to-day operations, while also building toward continuous growth and innovation.
  4. Maintain a balance between growth and effectiveness. Building this into a strategic plan ensures successful delivery of services and ongoing expansion of services. This allows for the nonprofit to evolve as it increases variety and scope of services offered to the community
  5. Align stakeholders’ priorities with organizational leadership’s priorities. Leadership cohorts must intentionally build an authorizing environment for stakeholders to be involved in, defining the organization’s priorities.

Building an effective strategic plan requires utilizing an adaptive leadership framework to build a sustainable foundation that allows for flexibility and growth.

Gabriella Mendoza is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. They are a queer identified, second-generation Mexican-American from California’s Central Valley. Their experience is in sex education where they have mastered skills of curriculum design, group facilitation, and management. They currently work as a Program Impact Manager at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, where they work to invest in communities through education and healthcare.

Strategic planning services

The ASU Lodestar Center can help your organization develop a comprehensive strategic plan. Learn more about the services we offer.

Gabriella Mendoza


ASU Lodestar Center Blog