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Strong strategy, stronger outcomes

Developed in collaboration with The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, GCN’s 2014 Strategic Benchmarking Report: A Study of Nonprofit Performance in the 23-County Metro Atlanta Area follows up our initial 2011 study identifying current practices in strategic planning, and examining the impact of planning on growth rates. Our bottom line discovery: a strong correlation between robust planning practices and organizational growth.

What’s changed since our initial study?

The number of organizations with strategic plans—is holding steady at four out of five; of those with a plan, nine out of 10 report that their plan is current. Promising trends include a greater incidence of high-level plan components like goals, objectives, and timelines. Strategic planning is also becoming more inclusive and participatory: Board members still drive the process, but an increasing number of staff and constituents are being involved.

What still needs to change?

Many strategic plans continue to lack components crucial to turning aspiration into execution. Still absent in many plans are the elements that determine feasibility and enable the plan’s implementation, such as methodology, staffing plans, and evaluation metrics. In addition, fewer than half of those with strategic plans have included budgets and revenue plans.

How is strategy paying off?

Taking a market-focused approach to planning, which invites community input and third-party data as well as internal support, was linked to improved programmatic impact, with more than 80% of organizations reporting “steady” to “exponential” growth as a result.

Moreover, we found a strong positive correlation overall between strategic planning and recently experienced growth in budget, staff, scope, and impact. That correlation was even more pronounced for organizations that included implementation components in their strategic plans; those with evaluation components, for example, were 35% more likely to report growth.

Download the complete report at gcn.org/research.


Curated by Tommy Pearce, consultant with GCN's Nonprofit Consulting Group, and Brian Carr, communications consultant for GCN.

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