top of page
  • Writer's pictureMegan MacNee

Unpacking the Common Pitfalls: Why Your Organization's Strategic Plan Failed

Strategic planning is a critical process for all organizations, particularly non-profit associations. It allows these organizations to navigate the complex and changing world membership organizations are operating in. However, despite their noble intentions, not all strategic plans yield the desired results.

I've had the privilege of assisting numerous organizations in developing and implementing their strategic plans. Through these experiences, I've identified some common reasons why these plans can fail. Let's explore these pitfalls and offer insights on how to avoid them.

Lack of Clarity and Alignment

One of the most significant contributors to strategic plan failure in is a lack of clarity and alignment among stakeholders. It's crucial to ensure everyone involved understands the plan's goals, objectives, and their specific roles in its execution. Misalignment can lead to conflicting priorities, wasted resources, and frustration among team members.

To address this, organizations should invest time in facilitating open and transparent communication during the planning process. Ensure that all stakeholders, including volunteers, board members, and staff, have a shared understanding of the plan's purpose and vision. Regularly revisit and communicate the plan's progress to maintain alignment throughout its implementation.

Diverging from Your Purpose

Strategic planning for non-profits, in particular, requires a steadfast commitment to their core mission and purpose. Diverging from this mission, even with the best intentions, can lead to confusion and plan failure. Organizations must ensure that every strategic decision aligns with their fundamental goals and values.

To avoid this pitfall, remember that all decisions, goals, and priorities must come back to the mission. Continually remind your team and stakeholders of the central values that guide your work. While it's essential to adapt to changing circumstances, never lose sight of your organization's core purpose.

Overambitious Goals

While setting ambitious goals can be inspiring, overly ambitious objectives can lead to frustration and failure in non-profit associations. When goals are not based in reality within the given resources and timeframes, volunteers and staff may become demotivated and disheartened.

To prevent this, ensure that your strategic goals are challenging yet achievable. Consider the capacity of your volunteers and staff, as well as the available funding and resources, before setting objectives. It's better to achieve incremental progress consistently than to aim too high and risk burnout or financial strain.

Lack of Accountability

Successful strategic plans for non-profit associations require accountability at all levels of the organization. Failing to assign responsibility and establish clear lines of accountability can lead to a lack of ownership and progress stagnation. Creating a plan will do nothing if you don't continue to come back to it.

To address this issue, assign specific individuals or teams to be responsible for each strategic initiative. Develop a plan to track progress and regularly review them. Celebrate successes and address any obstacles promptly to keep the plan on track.


The social landscape is dynamic, and strategic plans for non-profit associations must be flexible enough to adapt to unforeseen challenges and opportunities. A rigid plan that cannot evolve with changing circumstances is more likely to fail in achieving its social impact goals.

To combat inflexibility, build in regular review and adjustment points into your strategic planning process. Encourage a culture of continuous learning and adaptability. Consider scenario planning to prepare for potential disruptions and ensure your plan remains relevant to the ever-changing needs of your community.

Don't Let Your Plan Just Be a Piece of Paper

Strategic planning is a powerful tool for non-profit associations to achieve their mission and create meaningful social change. However, it's essential to be aware of the common pitfalls that can lead to plan failure. By addressing issues related to clarity, staying true to your purpose, goal-setting, accountability, and flexibility, non-profit associations can enhance their strategic planning processes and increase the likelihood of making a positive impact on the communities they serve.

As an expert strategic planning facilitator for non-profit associations, my advice is to view strategic planning as an ongoing, collaborative effort that involves all stakeholders. Be prepared to learn from both successes and failures, as these experiences can inform and improve future planning endeavors. By doing so, your association can build a resilient and adaptable strategic planning process that stands a better chance of achieving its mission and creating lasting social change while staying true to its core purpose.

31 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page