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January 20, 2022
Beyond Strategic Planning: The Case for Integrated Planning
By Sam Frank

Sam Frank
Sam Frank
Strategic planning means different things to different people. Often its objectives are poorly defined or misaligned with its approach, leading to frustration and failure.

By articulating several different kinds of planning and orchestrating them into a comprehensive planning framework, nonprofits can use the concept of integrated planning to develop a more effective planning process and achieve more meaningful results.

At the core of integrated planning are strategic, program, and business planning, the why, what and how of the organization.

Strategic planning is essentially broad-based consensus-building around mission and goals. It draws all stakeholders into a discussion that reinvigorates the sense of communal purpose. Strategic planning is especially important for senior staff, who need a strategic direction to channel their efforts most productively, and for the governing board, who often need the planning process to truly understand their institution and to find inspiration and channels for meaningful contributions to it. But effective strategic planning should also energize all staff and all constituencies. It is the broad-picture process that both builds on and drives the other efforts.

Program planning, which develops an institution’s services, programs, and delivery mechanisms and identifies the resources needed to implement them, is the prerogative of the organization’s professional staff (assuming there is one; these distinctions can be moot for a new or totally volunteer-based nonprofit without a professional staff).

Business planning is as crucial for a nonprofit institution as it is in a for-profit business. A business plan details the means by which the institution is to be supported and sustained, determines operational feasibility, and provides the staffing, financial, market, and operational details required. Business planning is the responsibility of the CEO, CFO, and board.

A regular, integrated cycle of strategic, program, and business planning promotes robust communication throughout the organization. It also cultivates a culture of planning, which focuses the efforts of the entire organization on critical strategic issues.

Supporting Management and Board

A comprehensive approach to integrated planning encompasses a number of other areas that support improved management structures and more effective board oversight:

Organizational development: The long-term health of any institution depends on habits of stewardship in governance and management. Board development addresses policies and procedures for the board, including issues of recruitment, orientation, ongoing education, leadership development, succession planning, and self-assessment. On the staff side, the issues include clarity of structure and policies as well as opportunities for professional development.

Identity development: Identity is the essential nature of an institution: who you are, as defined by what you do and how you do it. Brand identity is the external perception of your mission and identity. Attention to brand identity fosters operating stability and increased visibility and revenue.

Advancement planning: Sound institutional planning and strategy are critical assets for success with institutional advancement, but there is also a need for planning within the advancement area, for advocacy, for communications, and for fundraising.

Human resource planning: The strength—and the budget—of a nonprofit organization are substantially invested in its people. A broad range of issues, from personnel policies to professional development, should be articulated in a clear plan that will solidify management, minimize risks, and provide continuity.

Technology planning: The cost of keeping up-to-date and competitive in technology can overwhelm institutional staffs and budgets. Lean nonprofit operations can be strained by new opportunities such as web 2.0 (web-based social media and other forms of interactivity among users), which may become critical to future success.

Facility planning: Facility projects require focused attention long before an architect and contractor are hired—and long after. Rigorous integrated planning can assure that design and construction are preceded by clarity about goals, needs, budget, and controls required to reduce costs and risks and deliver the best possible results.

Integrating all organizational planning and development efforts offers enormous advantages, while preventing uncoordinated—or even conflicting—results.

Sam Frank, founder of Synthesis Partnership, helps nonprofits facing or creating change by providing services relating to integrated planning, organizational development, and governance. Email to him at or call 617-969-1881.
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