July 29, 2023

What’s the Difference Between Strategy and Planning?

Perhaps you’re confused about the difference between strategy and planning. Many confuse strategy and planning, though they differ. It’s helpful to get the term right, especially when you talk to donors and funders. This explores both.

What Is Nonprofit Strategy?

A nonprofit strategy identifies different routes to the future you want. It explains how you will win enough resources and enough supporters to create exemplary mission results. A good strategy provides overall direction. It’s how you win, given your limited resources and big challenge.  You use it long-term. You can condense strategy into a few well-chosen words to convey its essence.

Example of Nonprofit Strategy

  1. Educate the moms:  Adopted by a home for young unwed mothers to help them move families out of poverty.
  2. Education comes first: nothing gets in the way. Advocated by Centre College in Danville, Kentucky
  3. Forty percent donor, 40 percent earned, and 20 percent government:  A nonprofit’s sustainable income strategy.
  4. Follow the North Star: This strategy was used by runaway slaves. (Okay, this is not a nonprofit, but it was effective.)

What is Nonprofit Planning?

Nonprofit planning works best when used with a strategy. Planning gets specific. The planning timeframe can be ten minutes or three years. It’s always finite, and it is usually the next step.

Plans can be simple: Go to the store and buy milk. They can be complicated: Plan the gala by taking one step per day for 365 days. Using the strategies above, the examples below illustrate how strategy and planning enhance each other.

Example of Planning that Flows from Nonprofit Strategy

  1. Educate mothers. A home provides free daycare. The hours match class times at the local community college.
  2. Education first. Neither Labor Day, sickness, sports events, or tornado warnings interfere with classes. Centre College holds classes. (Centre canceled classes for an ice storm in a recent winter—the first time in over a decade.)
  3. Forty percent donor income: To grow donors, the nonprofit presents at 20 community events, collects emails, and provides a follow-up newsletter with provocative information.
  4. North Star. A runaway slave gazes up at night to confirm the next day’s direction.

You can have a strategy without a plan and a plan without a strategy. When linked, a strategy, such as We want to go north during the heat of the summer, and a plan that includes hotel reservations and a tank full of gas, allow you to reach your destination efficiently and effectively. To grow your nonprofit’s income, create a strategy that will set your way to winning, then make your plans to get there.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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