Strategic thinking is essential for nonprofits to achieve their mission and maximize their impact. By applying strategic thinking to all aspects of their operations, nonprofits can stay focused on their mission, adapt to changes in the landscape, and identify new opportunities. Strategic thinking is not limited to strategic planning; it is a continuous process that nonprofits can apply in all operations. In today’s podcast, Dolph Goldenburg from Successful Nonprofits and Stephen Halasnik from Financing Solutions discuss nonprofits’ strategic thinking isn’t just for strategic planning. 

Nonprofits Strategic Thinking Isn’t Just For Strategic Planning

Nonprofit organizations exist for the sole aim of serving a specific cause or community. However, they often face unique challenges that require strategic thinking to reach their mission. While strategic planning is essential for any nonprofit’s success, strategic thinking is not limited to the planning process alone. It is a continuous practice that you must apply to all aspects of your nonprofit’s operations, from day-to-day decision-making to long-term strategy development. 

What is strategic thinking?

Strategic thinking means analyzing a situation or problem and creating a plan of action to help your organization achieve its goals. It involves considering all relevant factors and potential positive and negative outcomes and making informed decisions based on that analysis. Strategic thinking is often associated with long-term planning, but it also applies to short-term decisions that can significantly impact an organization’s success.

Why is strategic thinking important for nonprofits?

Nonprofits operate in a complex and ever-changing environment, and strategic thinking is essential to navigating their challenges. Strategic thinking helps nonprofits stay focused on their mission, identify new opportunities, and adapt to changes in the landscape. It also enables nonprofits to maximize their limited resources by prioritizing initiatives with the greatest impact.

Strategic thinking is particularly important for nonprofits because they often operate in resource-constrained environments. Nonprofits must make the most of their limited resources, and strategic thinking enables them to do so by identifying the most effective strategies and initiatives.

How can nonprofits apply strategic thinking?

Strategic thinking can be applied to all aspects of a nonprofit’s operations. Here are a few examples:

Program and Policy Development

When developing new programs, nonprofits should consider the needs of their target population, the available resources, and the program’s potential impact. By taking a strategic approach to program development, nonprofits can ensure that their programs are aligned with their mission and have the greatest impact. They should conduct a thorough needs assessment to identify their target population’s needs and challenges. This information can then inform the program’s design, ensuring that it addresses the most pressing issues the community faces. 

Strategic thinking can also help nonprofits identify the most effective program delivery mechanisms, considering cost, scalability, and impact. By developing programs tailored to the community’s needs and designed strategically, nonprofits can maximize their impact and achieve their mission more effectively.


Nonprofits rely on donations and grants to fund their operations, and strategic thinking can help them identify new funding sources and develop fundraising strategies that are most likely to be successful. Nonprofits should consider conducting a thorough analysis of their donor base to identify trends and patterns in giving. With this information, nonprofits can tailor their fundraising efforts to appeal to the interests and motivations of their donors. 

Additionally, strategic thinking can help nonprofits diversify their funding sources to reduce reliance on any single donor or funding stream. By developing a strategic fundraising plan that considers the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, nonprofits can increase their chances of success and achieve their fundraising goals.


Nonprofits must communicate effectively with their constituent, including donors, volunteers, and the communities they serve. By taking a strategic approach to communications, nonprofits can ensure that their messaging is consistent and resonates with their target audience. 

Nonprofits should thoroughly analyze their stakeholders to understand their interests, preferences, and communication styles. With this information, nonprofits can tailor their messaging and communication strategies to engage effectively with their stakeholders. Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking can also help nonprofits identify the most effective communication channels, factoring in reach, cost, and impact. By developing a strategic plan for communications that considers their stakeholders’ unique needs and preferences, nonprofits can build strong relationships with their supporters, increase engagement, and achieve their mission more effectively.

Partnership Development 

Nonprofits can achieve more by partnering with other organizations that share their mission. Strategic thinking can help nonprofits identify potential partners and develop partnerships that will be most effective in achieving their goals.

Nonprofit strategic thinking vs. strategic planning

Nonprofit strategic thinking and strategic planning are related but distinct concepts.

Strategic thinking involves analyzing the organization’s internal and external environment, identifying opportunities and challenges, and exploring potential future scenarios. It is a creative and iterative process that generates and evaluates ideas, tests assumptions, and challenges conventional thinking.

Strategic planning, on the other hand, is the process of translating strategic thinking into actionable plans and goals. It involves setting objectives, developing strategies, determining resource requirements, and establishing metrics to measure progress and success.

In other words, strategic thinking is about developing a deep understanding of the nonprofit’s mission, values, and vision and using that knowledge to identify new opportunities and challenges.

Both strategic thinking and strategic planning are essential for nonprofit organizations. Effective strategic thinking helps organizations anticipate and adapt to changing circumstances, while strategic planning ensures they have a clear roadmap to achieve their goals. By combining these two approaches, nonprofits can develop a strong, sustainable, impactful strategy aligning with their mission and values.

Learn About Our Guest

Dolph Goldenburg is the principal consultant at Successful Nonprofits, a progress and values-based consulting firm serving nonprofits throughout North America. In addition to providing executive transition, executive coaching, strategic planning, and board development services, Dolph also hosts the Successful Nonprofits Podcast and is a frequent guest on other nonprofits. Dolph is the Yoda of the nonprofit sector – a guide and coach who ensures you are the hero of your own story.

Learn About Stephen Halasnik

Stephen Halasnik is the host of the popular Nonprofit MBA Podcast. The Nonprofit MBA podcast aims to help nonprofit leaders and their teams. Stephen is the Co-founder and Managing Partner of Financing Solutions, a leading provider of loans for nonprofits in the form of a Line of Credit. Stephen is a best-selling Amazon author and a leading authority on building great, purpose-driven businesses.

Stephen lives in New Jersey, and his top life mission is to raise his two sons, Michael and Maxwell, to be good men