Strategic Planning: An Inside Look

Earlier this year, Charities Review Council (the Council) announced the launch our new strategic plan, with changes to our vision, mission, and strategic priorities. As you can imagine, creating our 2018 – 2020 strategic framework was an extensive process of learning, dreaming, and planning for the future. With our process now complete, we wanted to share a few key learnings. While every nonprofit is unique in size, scope, and focus-area, our hope is that these insights will inspire and inform your strategic planning process in the future.

Who We Engaged

Our intent during this planning process was to engage community voice, not to create something that applied only within our walls. Therefore, we decided it was best to engage our full staff (3 FTE, small but mighty!), a strategic planning committee, a strategic planning consultant, our key donor and nonprofit stakeholders, and our full board of directors. Each played a crucial role in the development of our new plan.


In our research, we found it common for the Chief Executive to be involved in the strategic planning process. We at the Council decided to take it a step further, engaging our full staff in conversations and planning. As Executive Director, Kris Kewitsch shares, “Nobody knows our work better than our team and understanding the day-to-day operations was imperative to framing our goals for the future.”

Strategic Planning Committee

After an initial all-day board and staff retreat, we used our board’s pre-existing executive committee as our strategic planning committee. In the past, we had tried to add a strategic planning session to one of our board meeting agendas, but often felt rushed. Utilizing a committee allowed us the time and space to ask the hard questions…

  • Does our mission still ring true?
  • What do we most desire the Council to become?
  • What unique value does the Council aim to provide?
  • How do we know we’re succeeding?

These questions shaped our conversations in a meaningful way, helping us approach planning from multiple perspectives. In turn, we were able to create a strong plan with built-in measures for success.

Strategic Planning Consultant

Not every nonprofit will engage a consultant, but we found ours to be extremely helpful. Finding the right consultant is important. With our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), we made sure to seek a consultant well-versed in DEI work. Our consultant helped guide and facilitate conversations at our strategic planning committee meetings, keeping us on track and challenging us to think beyond our longtime experience with the Council. We highly recommend putting space in your budget (or fundraising) for a strategic planning consultant, when the time comes.

Key Stakeholders

Donor and nonprofit voice were evident throughout the planning process. We used donor surveys and nonprofit evaluations from the Accountability Wizard®, to inform our decision-making. Together, we created a plan that was meaningful and forward-thinking.

Board of Directors

Creating our plan was an iterative process, incorporating feedback from our board of directors. In each board discussion, board members weighed in on the drafted plan, bringing their creativity and perspective to ultimately approve a better, more reflective framework for all stakeholders. It was imperative that the board—like staff–had input.

Our Timeline

As a small organization, it was important for us to create a realistic timeline that allowed time for thoughtful conversation and inspired planning. Our process extended over a 10-month period, allowing time for 4 strategic planning committee meetings and 3 board discussions. Although at times it felt long and drawn out, in the end, we were happy that we took the time to incorporate several rounds of feedback and revision. As you begin your planning process, make sure to establish a timeline and process for feedback that works for you and your organization.

The Nuts & Bolts

In drafting our plan, we limited our focus to 3-5 core priorities, keeping the plan realistic and streamlined. We gave space for 2 of these priorities to be internally-focused–we wanted our investments in core vision to be evident, not assumed. Additionally, rather than take a hard turn in a new direction, we decided this strategic plan would build upon previous successes. Once our strategic plan was complete, we shared it broadly with our key stakeholders and partners. “Our new plan is jam-packed with great information, like our vision, mission, values, strategic priorities, measures, and more! For internal purposes, the more information the better, but for communicating broadly, we decided to go with a streamlined version that illustrated our key strategic priorities,” shared Abby Wellan, the Council’s Nonprofit Services & Communications Manager. Once your plan is complete, share it with stakeholders and partners in a way that is meaningful to you and them.

Next Steps

Our work isn’t over now that we have a plan. The Accountability Standards® require board members to review the nonprofit’s mission and supporting strategies at least once per year. This could mean full strategic planning every year, but more likely it involves annual planning based on an existing strategic plan. Here at the Council, we mapped out our strategic plan goals over the three years identified in the new plan, identifying short-term goals that will help us achieve our envisioned framework. Each year, we create an annual plan to make sure we’re on the right track and making progress towards our strategic goals. As Nonprofit Services & Development Specialist Ian Cook notes “it is important to review your accomplishments over the past year and hopes for the next, giving the board the chance to focus the organization’s work towards its long-term goals while addressing any current needs.”

Do you have any additional tips or tricks to share with our readers? Let us know! We’d love to hear about your strategic planning experience. Share your thoughts with us at

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