Foundation Operations: Managing Operations-> Strategic Planning - GIH Skip Navigation

Foundation Operations: Managing Operations-> Strategic Planning

What should be included in my strategic plan?

Foundations undertake strategic planning to determine how grantmaking programs should change in order to be more effective or responsive and to establish new goals for the foundation's work.

The strategic planning process is usually overseen by a planning committee or subcommittee of the board, and is conducted by the foundation's leadership and key staff, often with assistance from outside consultants. Components of a planning process may include: revisiting the mission statement; drafting a vision statement; conducting an environmental scan of issues facing the foundation or its key stakeholders; assessing the foundation's impact; establishing priorities, goals and objectives; drafting a strategic plan; and developing an annual operating plan and budget. The cost and amount of time needed for planning are usually dependent on how much a foundation is willing to invest – both in terms of money and staff energy. Other considerations might be the foundation's age and size of assets.

A strategic plan is the written document that summarizes the issues or needs identified; the desired goals and outcomes; and the actions and resources needed to accomplish the goals. Specifically, a plan might include the following:

  • mission statement – the foundation's purpose and activity;
  • vision statement – how the target issue or population would be changed by the foundation's work, if successful;
  • values statement – the foundation's beliefs
  • goals and objectives – what the foundation wants to have happen
  • strategies and tactics – how the goals will be accomplished; and
  • implementation plan – priorities, cost, and timeline.

Once the plan is drafted, it is presented to the board for approval and then serves as a management tool and guide for foundation leadership. Most strategic plans are for three- to five-year projections and are reviewed and modified toward the end of that time.

One criticism of strategic planning is that a lot of work can go into a document that then may never be used or revisited. For foundations, strategic plannning can be utilized to help gauge the impact of grants, stimulate feedback from grantees, determine where program areas need improvement, and align philanthropy with a current environment. Some foundations are using their strategic plans to help publicly explain grantmaking strategies or organizational restructuring.


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