Is your nonprofit organization assessing your strategic planning readiness? There are a handful of green or red light indicators that can predict whether or not a nonprofit organization is ready to move ahead with a full strategic planning process.

Leaders of nonprofits often ask me about their own strategic planning readiness. They want to know when is the right time for their organization to embark on a strategic planning journey. I have found that there are a handful of green or red light strategic planning readiness indicators that can predict whether or not a nonprofit organization is really ready to move ahead with strategic planning.

As I describe in my workbook, The Nonprofit Strategy Tango: I lead, you follow, and together we create your next strategic plan, my green light indicators fall into 5 categories and the red light indicators currently include 3 categories.


Green light indicators of strategic planning readiness:

1) You are considering whether to update your mission and vision. You are ready to revisit your organization’s mission and vision given recent changes. You are you willing to think about the future and not just maintain the status quo.

2) You want to hear from your constituents. You want to confirm whether your programs and services are meeting the needs of those you serve. You are ready to listen to constructive feedback from your stakeholders. You are willing to consider changes based on the feedback you receive.

3) Your leadership is ready to devote time and attention to planning. You have had stable leadership in your staff and board over the last year or two. You recently completed a leadership transition, and it’s time to write the next chapter for your organization. You know several experienced and motivated people who could join a strategic planning committee.

4) You need an action plan to align and accelerate your efforts. You previously used a strategic plan, but it’s time for an update or overhaul.You need to build more infrastructure to stabilize your operations, but you want to confirm that you are building the right infrastructure before charging ahead. Or, you may be on the cusp of becoming a true thought leader in your field, and you want to consider how to extend your reach and influence.

5) You can commit the necessary time to plan. You are picking a time to plan that isn’t your busiest time of the year. You will dedicate agenda time to planning during your next few board meetings. You are ready to devote 30-40 hours of time for planning within a 4-9-month window.


Red-light indicators that you may NOT be ready for strategic planning:

1) You are just focused on surviving today and tomorrow. You recently received your 501c3 nonprofit status*, but you have not yet set up the basic administrative infrastructure, policies, and procedures. You are currently in a financial crisis.** You don’t have stable leadership to manage day-to-day operations.

2) Most of your board is resisting planning. There are elephants in the room that no one is brave enough to name in public. Many people on your board currently believe: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Your board has lots of loose cannons, change resistors, or meeting dominators.

3) You don’t have a champion yet. None of your board and staff members have ever been through strategic planning. You don’t have one staff and one board champion to drive your planning process. You can’t come up with six people to serve on your strategic planning committee.


* If you are a relatively new organization, I would recommend getting your infrastructure, policies, and procedures in place before carving out the time and space needed for long-range strategic planning. Brand new organizations should confirm their mission, vision, and values if they haven’t already defined these. If you are a new organization, a full strategic planning process may be overwhelming.

** If you are in a financial crisis, please don’t proceed just yet with strategic planning. I see many organizations who are really in more of a turnaround mode than ready for long-range strategic planning. Ironically, if your organization is, in fact, in turnaround mode, some of the same elements that are crucial to a strategic plan are going to be crucial to a turnaround plan. The key difference is the time you need to turn things around and the high stakes for survival, especially if you don’t act quickly enough. If you are in a turnaround situation, there are other more specific resources for how to handle a turnaround. One of my favorite resources on turnarounds is Michael M. Kaiser’s, The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations. See the Ten Rules introductory chapter on pages 1-14 which apply to lots of organizations, not just arts organizations.

So those are some of the red and green light predictive indicators of strategic planning readiness that I’ve seen. I’d love to hear from you at if you have others to add to the list. I’m still looking to add more indicators to my workbook, The Nonprofit Strategy Tango, and as always, I welcome your feedback.

Is your organization ready for a change?

Stephanie Blackburn Freeth is the creator of The Strategy Tango.


The Strategy Tango is designed to move through seven tried and true planning steps while also accommodating the unique needs of your organization in each moment.


The Strategy Tango process is built upon a foundation of collaboration, candor, and focus.

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