18 Popular Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models & Tools

18 Popular Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models & Tools

There’s not much use in building a solid nonprofit strategic plan without determining how to achieve your newfound objectives. Board, staff and volunteers need a roadmap to keep them informed, goal-orientated and autonomous. So that they can execute strategic plans to run a smooth operation. While you may already know what you want to achieve and how. It’s also crucial to look at challenges and opportunities from every angle. As economist and business strategy guru Michael Porter says, “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Still, it’s not that easy, and with the vast amount of details surrounding nonprofit strategic planning models out there. It can become overwhelming. To give you a helping hand, below, we’ve outlined and illustrated 18 of the best models and tools, complete with examples. 

What is a Strategic Planning Model?

A strategic planning model outlines how a nonprofit organization will take their goals and objectives to implement a strategy to improve operations and better achieve goals. You can think of strategic planning models as a type of template to input goals and desires that ultimately create a structured, realistic and achievable strategic plan.

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Do you need a Strategic Planning Model?

Every great expedition requires a direction, objective, and a clear definition of purpose that guides the leaders’ decisions – your nonprofit’s goals and objectives are much the same. While the idea of implementing strategic planning models may seem like an elaborate way of saying you need a plan to achieve your goals, it is actually a crucial method of staying ahead of changes by continually improving several areas of your organization. Alongside several other benefits that you can expect to receive:

Benefits of strategic planning:  

  • Provides a guidepost for your board to use to navigate the vast array of challenges and choices every organization faces. 
  • Helps to provide a roadmap to success for the board, volunteers and staff. 
  • Encourages strategic thinking all year long.
  • Improves organizational decision-making.
  • Creates a vision of your strengths and weaknesses as an organization. 

Strategic Planning Models vs Strategic Frameworks

Many resources use both of these terms interchangeably. But they’re two very different things. A strategic planning model maps out your organization’s strategy and describes each element. For example, what they do, how they fit together, and in which order. Most organizations use them as a template to inform the beginning of their strategic planning process. Comparatively, a strategic planning framework is a conceptual visual tool that details how you plan to approach your strategic plan. 

3 core components of Strategic Planning Models

A strategic planning model is actually a group term for the elements that contribute to the strategic planning process; a template structure for creating goals, frameworks for supporting different areas of focus and a governance structure that helps manage and track the progression of your strategy. 

3 core components of Strategic Planning Models

3 core components of Strategic Planning Models

  • 1. Structure: A blueprint of all the components in your strategic plan and how they work to fit together. The structure could include your vision statement, mission statement, values, goals and so on.
  • 2. Framework: Frameworks are the methods you apply to help develop and categorize your goals and objectives.
  • 3. Governance: Governance is how you’ll implement the tracking and reporting on the progress of the goal elements of your strategy.


Popular Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models

Nonprofit strategic planning is a critical process of identifying components that will help your organization reach its goal. Strategic planning also requires your organization to create goals, objectives and plan how you’ll achieve them – usually outlined in a strategic plan. Need examples of strategic planning models to help you start? Discover our recommended selection below: 

1. The Basic model

Also known as a “simple model,” the basic model is popular with organizations who usually don’t have much experience with strategic planning, are too small to develop complex plans, or have many serious problems to solve.

The Basic Model | Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models & Tools

The basic strategic planning model works by first focusing on establishing your company vision and mission statement, then setting goals to make the vision a reality by outlining the specific steps needed to reach the goals alongside monitoring progress to keep everybody on track and address issues when they come up.

2. Gap Planning

Gap planning, also known as a “Need Assessment,” “Need-Gap Analysis,” or a “Strategic-Planning Gap,” is a strategic planning model. Its main purpose is to determine where an organization is now, where it wants to be and how to fill the gap between to achieve this. For this reason, most organizations choose to use it to identify specific deficiencies.

3. Blue Ocean Strategy

The Blue Ocean Strategy is a strategic planning model that originated from the book, “Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant.” Written in 2005 by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne the Blue Ocean Strategy works by helping organizations develop in an “uncontested market space” (the blue ocean) instead of a saturated market (the red ocean.) Therefore, if your organization can create a blue ocean strategy – it could mean a massive boost for your mission, vision and impact. Below is an example from the Blue Ocean Strategy website to help you understand the differences between a blue and red ocean:

A comparison chart from the Blue Ocean Strategy website

4. OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)

As one of the world’s most straightforward strategic planning models, it’s no real surprise that the OKR framework has been used by some of Silicon Valley’s biggest giants such as Google, Intel, Spotify, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The model seeks to create alignment and engagement around measurable goals by clearly defining a set of OKRs reviewed by every level of management in an organization. These consist of:

Objectives: What is it you want to achieve? (Organizations usually choose three to five goals that are concise, inspiring, and time-sensitive.)

Key Results: How will you measure the progress toward your achievements? (Again, most organizations set three to five key quantitative results per goal.)

Overall, the OKR strategic model framework is a fast-paced, effective tool for continually setting goals, tracking them, and re-evaluating the results to quickly adapt your organization as and when needed. 

5. Hoshin Kanri Strategic Planning Model

Primarily used by nonprofit organizations that want to drive a consistent focus throughout their structure, the Hoshin Kanri strategic planning model is best suited to large organizations with different layers of management, including top-level executives, middle managers, and front-line staff. The approach seeks to align your strategic goals with tasks to ensure that your efforts are coordinated. Therefore, the model is more of a strategic management model that’s less concentrated on measures and more on goals and initiatives. Overall, the strategic planning model has four main steps:

Step 1. Identify key goals. (Around 3-5) 

Step 2Share goals (From the top to bottom of your organization to ensure buy-in.)

Step 3Gather intel (Track the execution of your key goals and gather feedback from employees)

Step 3. Make adjustments. (Initiate change based on feedback)

Use a quadrant model like the example below to help visualize your objectives, measures and targets:

6. Issue-Based Strategic Planning

Ideal for young or resource-strapped organizations, the issue-based strategic model aims to identify the significant challenges your organization faces now so that you can support your projections for the future. In other words, you start by identifying problems and ironing out the issues before expanding or modifying your strategy. The strategic planning model has three broad steps:

  1. Identify the issue.
  2. Suggest actions that can resolve the issue.
  3. Include agreed-upon actions into the strategic plan.

Issue-Based Strategic Planning | Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models & Tools

7. Goal-Based Strategic Planning

Goal-based strategic planning works backwards from the future until the present – and it all starts with your nonprofit organization’s vision.

A vision, by definition, is your view or image of the future. It’s not what’s happening right now. It’s not your goals that you need to achieve today or even tomorrow—instead, it’s your dreams, your image of the future, almost like a perfect world. Therefore, naturally, vision statements are aspirational but lack specific and measurable elements to be recognized.

That’s where goal-based planning tackles that challenge by setting measurable goals aligned with your vision and strategic plan. You then create timeframes for the goals to be completed and, from there, create action plans and begin measuring progress.

8. Alignment Model

The alignment model focuses on looking internally to develop a strategy that synchronizes your organization’s internal operations and strategic goals. The alignment strategic planning model is instrumental for organizations looking to refine their objectives or address ongoing challenges or inefficiencies blocking progress.

Alignment Model | Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models & Tools

The strategic planning model works by identifying one of your goals and analyzing which operations and resources need to be aligned to achieve this goal. Then, you can determine which aspects of your operation are working well and what isn’t to brainstorm ideas on how to address said problems. Lastly, you’ll produce a series of changes that will support the alignment of both operations and resources.

9. Organic Model Of Strategic Planning

The Organic Model Of Strategic Planning is one of the most unconventional as it isn’t linear or structured like the other models. It works by focusing on your organization’s shared vision and values rather than plans and processes with the idea that the vision is achieved via organic means – when teams communicate what next steps they need to take. Therefore, this strategic planning model requires a concise and clear understanding of the vision statement alongside frequent, effective dialogue between the board and staff. In general, the model contains three steps: 

  1. Clarify the organization’s shared vision and values.
  2. Determine the actions and responsibilities for each person so they can work toward achieving the vision.
  3. Board members report the results of the action plans.

Organic Model Of Strategic Planning | Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models & Tools

10. Real-Time Strategic Planning Model

The real-time strategic planning model is fluid for organizations to react quickly to a rapidly changing impact space or working environment – all too often in the nonprofit world. The real-time model contains three components:

  1. Organizational strategy: Define your organization’s mission and vision, know competitors in your space, and understand current related events.
  2. Programmatic strategy: Research external situations regarding opportunities and threats by brainstorming the best ways to approach each.
  3. Operational strategy: Analyze your internal processes and develop a strategy that addresses those strengths and weaknesses.

11. Scenario Planning Model

The scenario strategic planning model analyses external influences that could have an impact on your organization. The model works by determining how these outside influences could impact organizational operations from best-case scenarios, worst-case scenarios, and reasonable case scenarios. The scenarios then help you figure out the best way to respond to each by determining the most likely scenario and how you will address it.

Scenario Planning Model | Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models & Tools

12. 7s Model

The 7s framework is a strategic planning model created by McKinsey consultants that emphasizes aligning an organization’s key internal elements to achieve a strategy. The seven parts examined are: 

  • Structure: Your organizational chain of command. 
  • Strategy: Your action plan, supported by your nonprofit’s mission and vision statements. 
  • System: The technical infrastructure that facilitates daily workflows.
  • Skill: The abilities of employees, staff and board. 
  • Style: The management style of leadership. 
  • Staff: How they are selected, equipped, and motivated.
  • Shared value: Values and beliefs that inform actions and decisions.

7s Model | Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models & Tools

The model works by first examining the current state of interconnection between these seven elements. Once you’ve defined the relationship between these elements and noted any inconsistencies, you can work toward creating multiple ways of increasing synergy across them to support your strategy. For this reason, the 7s framework model is best suited to organizations experiencing a significant shift in any one of these areas. 

13. Constraints Analysis (Theory Of Constraints)

A constraints analysis works by presuming there are already clear challenges or obstacles in the way of your organization fulfilling your strategy execution. The focus of the strategic planning model is to eliminate the “weak link” by improving performance in that specific area and ultimately producing more well-rounded results.

To apply the theory of constraints to your own organization, you must first identify a challenge limiting your success or stopping you from fulfilling your vision. You can review any area, from company culture to funding shortages, campaign logistics, governance confusion, or even just dull board meetings. Overall the analysis works to help you improve one specific area at a time to achieve fast, tangible results.

Download the guide on 8 reasons why strategic planning fails and learn what to do instead

Strategic Planning Tools

Here are some additional resources you can use to support the strategic planning model you choose to implement:

SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis (also known as a SWOT matrix) is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and is used as a high-level strategic planning tool that identifies each of these components as they appear in your organization. Strengths and weaknesses are considered internal factors, and opportunities and threats are considered external factors. Therefore, by using this tool, you’ll determine where new opportunities are, where you need to improve and where you should be aware of any factors that may affect your success.

PEST Model

PEST is an acronym for “political, economic, sociocultural, and technological,” with each of these factors enabling organizations to look at what could affect their operational health. The strategic planning model is also sometimes used in tandem with the SWOT Analysis framework and includes similar angles from Porter’s Five Forces

Value, Rarity, Imitability, and Organization Framework(VRIO Framework)



The VRIO framework is a strategic planning tool and acronym used to identify your organization’s competitive advantages in your current space. The process relates more to your organization’s vision statement rather than your overall strategy and compromise of four different elements:



  • Value: Does it provide value to donors, beneficiaries and supporters?
  • Rarity: What makes your organization different? Do you possess a rare resource or technology?
  • Imitability: Can your organization’s competitors copy you? 
  • Organization: Does your nonprofit have the operations and systems in place to thrive on its resources?



By answering each of these questions about your organization, you’ll be able to formulate a more precise vision statement that will inform any of the additional strategic elements in your plan—ultimately helping to better cater to the needs of your audience. 



The Balanced Scorecard



Created by Drs. Robert Kaplan and David Norton, the Balanced Scorecard is a popular strategic planning tool that allows managers to overview the business’s operations on short notice. As well as being a tool for organizations to break up higher-level goals into more specific, measurable objectives. The model uses financial and operational metrics to determine how a company has performed in the past, present, and future projections. The model’s framework holds four key components, the sum of which create four specific reference points for goal-setting and performance measurement:



  1. Customer — how customers view your company
  2. Internal Process — how can you improve your internal processes
  3. Organizational Capacity — how to grow, adjust and develop
  4. Financial — your possible profitability



The best way to apply these four components is to create a scorecard that keeps track of your goals and how you use them. Here’s an example of what that yours could look like:



Porter’s Five Forces



Created by Michael Porter in 1979, Porter’s Five Forces is a longstanding strategic planning framework that focuses on the forces that impact the profitability of an industry or market. The five forces are: 






Porter’s Five Forces | Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models & Tools



  1. Competition in the industry: Are your current competitors poised for significant growth? 
  2. Potential threat of new industry entrants: Can other organizations enter the space easily? Or are there barriers to overcome? 
  3. Bargaining power of suppliers: Could large retailers put pressure on your organization to drive down the cost?
  4. Bargaining power of customers: Could individuals put pressure your organization to change the way you do things?
  5. Threat of substitute products:  Can buyers easily replace your product or purpose with another?



Once answered, the amount of pressure in each force will help you determine and project how possible events can affect your organization’s future. 



Is there ever a need to switch strategic planning models?



Yes! As your nonprofit organization thrives, it will grow and change. Ultimately, making the strategic planning model, you currently use redundant in the future. Luckily, as this guide has pointed out, there are plenty of model options to choose from.

Some organizations even combine strategic planning models or take several elements and create a custom approach. Overall, every nonprofit will manage strategic planning models differently. However, remember that your planning model should reflect only your approach.

Develop your strategy with an experienced AMC Strategic Planning Facilitator





AMC’s strategic planning approach leads your board and leadership through a series of comprehensive brainstorming sessions that help inspire generative conversations, alongside supporting you to identify and prioritize critical opportunities to establish your vision for a better community.



Once we’ve gathered your organization’s perspective, goals and priorities, we design and facilitate a strategic planning session focused on aligning your organization’s purpose with directives that will guide your operation over the next few years. Organizations can expect both staff and board to be involved, with participants leaving feeling reaffirmed, possessing a high-level direction and renewed commitment to your mission and vision.













“[The facilitator was] a natural catalyst with a strong desire for consensus building, [they] helped us organize our discussions so we can move our organization’s mission and vision forward.”

Luciana N.
Executive Director – Canadian Association for Interventional Radiology

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