„YMCA Europe is a working fellowship to strengthen movements where people grow in body, mind and spirit.“


25th October 2021

Throughout this article we want to introduce the key principles and main steps of the strategic planning process.


The Strategic Plan is an important journey and document in any civil society organisation: the process and content determine the way the organisation is developing.

Movement Strengthening at YMCA Europe seeks to build the capacity of organisations in different spheres including governance, internal policies, quality standards and strategic planning process.

Within the Organic Governance group of YMCA Europe we are collecting and presenting the best practices as examples of the documents which can be helpful for a civil society organisation’s development.



Joint Process

The Strategic plan is the roadmap of the whole organisation. It is crucial that as many members as possible have the opportunity to contribute to this process and share their vision. In small organisations it is reached easily: the strategic planning process is organised by a series of joint meetings. It is more complex to organise such a process in big organisations and in associations. The tools to develop it can be the following: 

  • a representational working group;
  • a series of consultations with different groups representing various dimensions (geography, thematic commissions, different governing and management roles, etc.);
  • an open access to the document allowing the members to read and comment; 
  • questionnaires distributed widely among members; 
  • several rounds of a draft circulation.

It does not matter in which ways you exactly organise the joint discussion, it is important that the process is participatory, representative and inclusive

Holistic Process

Strategic Planning is a process which aims to review and direct the whole organisation, not just specific programmes or areas. Therefore it is important to look at the organisation as a whole. 

Healthy Process

Strategic Planning involves transparent communication, listening to interests of different representatives, finding consensus, etc. It is important to make sure there are no conflicts in the organisation before starting the process. The unresolved conflicts can shift the focuses of discussions and impact the final result significantly.  

Realistic Document 

It is essential to create a real guiding document for the organisation. It is not just an officially required document hidden in the folder. When you have the plan elaborated, think about a simple way of presenting it to the community as well, showing your main priority areas. Bright and clear posts in social media or posters in a YMCA center can be very supportive to your process.

Adaptive Document 

The dynamics and changes in social, political, environmental, cultural background are constantly developing.  If several years ago we could design a plan for a five-seven years period, now we have to take into consideration that the future is becoming more and more unpredictable and we have to be ready for it. 

Therefore some organisations are planning for a short term period now; some try to include the “adaptive mechanism” within  the strategy itself. The examples can be the following: being more general in external thematic areas, or vice versa, being more specific and tackling less; including needs assessment more often; constant monitoring; creating crisis management plans and mechanisms, etc.

We recommend to consult this book for more information: https://www.lapiana.org/insight/the-nonprofit-strategy-revolution-2/ 




First of all it is important to analyse the fulfillment of the previous strategic plan: what you have accomplished, what not, why; what should be continued, what is not relevant any more; successes, challenges, lessons learned. 

SWOT and PEST analysis are very useful tools as the first stage or preparation for the strategic planning process.  

Many organisations often launch internal questionnaires to know the opinion of a large number of members and beneficiaries. Usually the following aspects are covered in such surveys:

  • level and spheres of engagement;
  • level of satisfaction by services;
  • communication;
  • governance;
  • what motivates and demotivates people to be involved;
  • what new things should appear and what to delete;
  • what are the key social challenges the organisation should deal with;
  • with which social challenges you are personally ready to deal within the organisation; 

Mission, Vision, Values

Mission. Most organisations do not change missions for many years as it is a guiding “North Star”, which provides the reason of existence of the organisation but actually can never be reached. Mission answers the question “why the organisation exists”. But many organisations do not change the mission because they find difficulties review it. It is a standard part of the strategic planning process to check if members are still in agreement with the formulation. As we mentioned before, the speed of social changes is so high that many things become out of date very quickly. There should not be fear of discussing it, to shift the focus, to choose the most appropriate wording which suits reality. It is also important that the formulation is easy to understand, to remember and be reproduced by members. 

Values. It is very important to review the list of values as part of the strategic planning process. Are they still relevant? Should new ones be added? There should be agreement on the list of values within the organisation as this is the fundament for programmes, internal culture, methods, policies, etc. We recommend the values are listed and published so they are well known by the members and the community. 

Vision. This is one more pillar of the organisation. You can find different interpretations of this term in literature. We describe it as a desired picture of a community and an organisation in future. We often compare it with the Theory of Change or suggest using this instrument as it helps to envision the desired changes in society, in target groups and in the organisation to be capable of achieving them. 

Changes. External focus

At this stage you already know the mission, values and envision the key changes in the community you want to achieve. 

To be able to be more specific and relevant, we encourage first to understand the target groups clearly. Each target group is special and has its specific needs. Each target group you are going to work with needs a special positive change. Knowing that you will be able to outline the key external or impact priorities for your organisation. Coming through a thorough discussion, it will be clear for you why your organisation deals with youth mental health issues and environment, and does not tackle youth employment, for example. 

Changes. Internal focus

Is your organisation capable enough to fulfill the changes you have identified? Do you need to pay attention to some internal processes in order to strengthen your movement? Communication, people development, fundraising, governance, partnership development, property management are examples of the areas. To discuss more the organisational development of your organisation we invite you to use the Health Check instrument: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ymca-health-check 


Although it may seem to be difficult, it is also recommended to identify the baseline and expected results’ indicators. It is important to know how you will understand that you have created the desired change or not. For example, if you have a strategic priority “Environmental awareness”, the indicators may be expressed as : “not less than 100 000 people in the community are included to awareness campaigns; internal environmental policy is elaborated and accepted; there are examples of behaviour change for more environmentally friendly (not less than 500 people witness)”. 

Operational Plan 

The Strategic Plan presents key directions of your organisation. It does not describe specific activities, timeframes, responsible people, resources required, etc. All these elements should be included in the Operational Plan (Annual Plan) which is elaborated on the basis of the Strategic Plan when it is approved. 


Here you can find several examples how Strategic Plan can look like.

YWCA-YMCA Sweden Strategic Plan, which is built as a theory of change, illustrating clearly why the organisation is acting.

YMCA Belarus Strategic Plan, which presents logic of external and internal strategic priorities’ description and indicators. 

YMCA Ukraine Strategic Plan, which presents logic of external and internal strategic priorities’ description and planned results. 

In the Financial Strategic Plan of YMCA Thames Gateway you will find detailed analysis of internal and external factors that influence the work of the organisation.

The project “Organic Governance and Quality Development” is supported by Erasmus+, Key Action 2 programme.

Author/Source: Olga Lukina, YMCA Europe Executive Secretary for Movement Strengthening - October 2021

donate now