At a recent Somerset County Business Partnership Nonprofit roundtable, the participants engaged in an interesting discussion distinguishing between operational, task-driven activities and a true strategic plan. While many nonprofits view their 501 C(3) tax status as a distinguishing factor, most agree that successful nonprofit organizations must develop a strategic plan that consistently generates positive exposure and enables the group to tell their story and make their case in a unique way.

Differentiating an organization’s brand has always been a critical factor for attracting and retaining high quality volunteers and board members as well as for nurturing corporate and individual donors and private funders. But in a Covid dominated environment, this is more important than ever.

Those nonprofits that were able to move quickly in order to revamp their service delivery systems and program platforms not only addressed their clients’ needs more effectively, but they were also able to build confidence with their volunteers and investors that they would be able to overcome or at least minimize the challenges brought by Covid.

Gone are the days of carefully pondering suggestions, brainstorming new concepts, and refining initiatives. Instead, committee and boards quickly realized they had to make smart decisions with lightning speed or fail their clients. In some instances a day or two was all it took for nonprofits to identify new ways to leverage technology to continue to deliver high quality care in new and unchartered waters.

While its nonprofit tax status sets an organization apart from the corporate business community, the reality is that nonprofits, just like any business, must focus on thinking strategically. This is a critical first step in order for the organization to accomplish its mission, generate revenue from unlikely sources, and explore ways to reduce expenses while increasing cash flow. From establishing reserve funds for a rainy day to forming key alliances to experimenting with cost sharing concepts, every nonprofit leader attending this SCBP session agreed that it is essential for every organization to develop a strategic plan that includes accountability and financial support as a line item in the budget.

Learning a lesson from their for profit colleagues, nonprofits recognize that a strategic plan that supports a vision for the next three years is imperative!