Highly Successful NPO's Engage in Routine, Periodic Strategic Planning

Nonprofit Organizational Performance and Strategic Planning.


Highly successful nonprofit organizations (NPO) engage in routine strategic planning! That’s one of the key findings of a March 2012 national survey conducted by the Association for Strategic Planning and the University of Arkansas Department of Political Science. One of the goals of the study was to determine the correlation between strategic planning and the relative success of the NPO.

The survey elicited responses from 1000 staff, board members and consultants working with a variety of NPO’s. 41% of respondents represented organizations generating less than $1 million, 33% between $1 and $5 million and 26% greater than $5 million in annual revenues. They were each asked to self-describe the level of success of their NPO.

Three primary findings emerged from the survey data.

1. Highly success NPO’s reported that the strategic planning process was a “routine periodic process in our organization.”

On the other hand, in NPO’s that self-described as “low success”, the strategic planning process was “driven by significant risks/challenges.” In high success NPO’s strategic planning was a proactive process, whereas in low success NPO’s strategic planning was a reactive process.

2. Highly successful NPO’s reported having successful plan implementation practices.

Low success NPO’s, on the other hand, reported that they did not have successful implementation practices.

3. Highly successful NPO’s reported that strategic planning had a high impact on the overall organizational success.

As you might expect, low success NPO’s reported that strategic planning did not play a key role in overall organizational success.

The size of the organization had little bearing on the relative success of the NPO. In other words, some smaller NPO’s self-described as “high success” while some larger NPO’s self-described as moderate or low success.

Where size did become a factor was in the challenges experienced by the NPO respondents. The challenge of “Poor board involvement/engagement” was much more prominent in small and medium sized NPO”s (41% and 32% respectively) while in large NPO’s only 17% listed that as one of their top 5 challenges.

The challenge of “silo mentalities of program staff” was by far a bigger challenge for large NPOs (40% ranked it as their #1 challenge), while smaller NPO’s ranked it at 8% and medium NPO’s at 17%. Interestingly, this data tracks with the findings of other research which indicates that “silo mentality” increases with the size of the organization.

For a more detailed report on the findings visit their website


As I work with executive leadership teams and boards of NPO’s my experience mirrors the findings of this major survey. Many NPO’s operate in reactive rather than proactive mode. IF they engage a strategic planning process, it’s driven by a crisis or a significant risk, usually related to viability and sustainability. “If” is the operative word. When they engage in a strategic planning process where the primary motivator is crisis or risk, the follow through on the action plan is almost often weak or nonexistent. Little wonder that the strategic planning process has a significant bearing on improving the success of their organization.

Some Questions For Your NPO

Here are some questions that would be important for your Executive Leadership Team and Board to discuss together.

How would you rate the success of your NPO? High? Moderate? Low?

What criteria did you consider in your rating?

Is your strategic planning process proactive (routine and periodic) or reactive (driven by crisis or risk) or nonexistent? Why do you think that is?

What impact does your approach to strategic planning have in your overall success as a NPO?

When will you conduct your next strategic planning event? Who will you contact to facilitate that process for you?

You cannot change your past, but you can create a different future. If it is to be, it’s up to me!