Strategic Planning

A strategic plan is a documented roadmap for how you’ll accomplish your mission and vision.

Best practices in strategic planning

Various organizations will encourage many different approaches to strategic planning. Regardless of the approach these are many agreed-upon best practices in strategic planning.

  • For new organizations, strategic plans are created and updated usually once per year. Over time, organizations often switch to once every three to five years. 
  • Strategic plans typically require organizations to specify what they are trying to achieve. Most organizations will use some combination of the terms goals, objectives, impact, outcomes, and outputs to describe what they are trying to achieve. 
  • Strategic planning should have carefully designed participation. Top-down approaches to strategic planning can lead to rigidity and an inability to respond to the changing environment, as well as low buy-in from stakeholders. 
  • Good strategic planning includes an external and internal assessment of the organization. This assists an organization in achieving its objectives and understanding if there are obstacles that have to be overcome. A commonly used tool, the SWOT analysis asks organizations to identify its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
  • There should be clear connections between the staffing, financial plan, and the strategic plans. It is important to consider what human and financial resources are necessary when constructing a strategic plan. 

How to strategically plan

To offer more specificity, the following section offers a more detailed approach for how to plan strategically for mission success. This is the approach used by all Asylum Access offices.

Before beginning, review this overall strategic planning log frame. It is a template that can help you organize your information:

Step 1: Conduct a SWOT analysis

Begin by brainstorming with your team (or conducting on your own if you are a team of 1!) your organizational Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). This exercise is commonly known as a SWOT analysis and typically is takes 1 – 2 hours to complete. Strengths and Weaknesses apply namely to internal analysis, while Opportunities and Threats apply to external analysis. A SWOT can help prepare you to set adequate goals to set for your organization, given the current national situation and organizational capacity.

For example, if being in the public eye is a major organizational threat, you may decide to avoid a goal that will require public presence to be successful. Or, if you discover that one of your organizational strengths is your knowledge of local refugee law, this may lend itself constructing goals that capitalize on that knowledge.

A common approach to conducting a SWOT analysis is to use a basic grid such as the one provided below, and to facilitate an open-ended brainstorm with your key stakeholders (this may include you, volunteers, board members, or other major participants in your work.

Step 2: Construct long-term goals

After conducting your SWOT analysis, you can begin to construct organizational goals.

Goals are broad statements that make your mission more concrete. Goals are typically not measurable, and they are usually not attainable in the short-term. Although it is important to revisit your goals annually, goals are not typically adjusted on an annual basis. Though it is what we all strive for, reaching goals usually takes several years.

As a starting point, it is usually wise to not construct more than three goals. This encourages organizational focus and promotes results-based management.

Goals are not necessarily tied to a single strategy or program. A goal may be best achieved through a combination of programmatic strategies; this is usually the case! When goals are best achieved through a combination of strategies, it is important to explicitly acknowledge it.

You and your staff should understand how their work compliments the work of others toward the end of achieving organizational goals. For example, if you’re goal is to help more refugees access work permits it’s feasible that all programs could be working toward that goal.

Good-to-great goals
Too specific and short-term oriented. This is closer to what an objective might contain To increase the number of refugees with successful RSD cases by 50% by June 2017
Not specific enough. To improve refugee rights
Great! To increase the number of refugees with successful RSD cases in my country






Other examples of well-constructed goals
  • Increase the success rate of African refugee admissibility cases
  • Promote durable solutions for refugees who are victims of trafficking
  • Improve refugees’ access to representation during eligibility interviews
  • Promote refugees’ access to legal work opportunities in urban settings
  • Facilitate refugee-led advocacy efforts that decrease the likelihood of detention

Step 3: Construct SMART objectives

For each goal you’ve constructed, it’s important to also create one or more SMART objectives.

SMART objectives are measurable and can be used to monitor and evaluate progress toward goals. They should be the most ambitious result (intended measurable change) that an organization, along with its partners, can materially affect within a given timeframe and set of resources for which it is willing to be held responsible.

Constructing SMART objectives for the first time can be confusing. Make sure you set aside enough time to concentrate on planning.

What makes objectives SMART?

SMART is an acronym. This short guide describes what each of the letters represent.

Specific: Objectives need to clearly describe the results expected. Detailed objectives make it easier to accurately and fairly monitor and evaluate progress toward goals. However, it is important to avoid providing too much details that the objective becomes too narrow and/or quickly outdated.

Measurable: The objective should be measurable.

Achievable: Achievable does not mean setting low expectations. It is helpful to create objectives that set high expectations for yourself and your staff, but that you believe are achievable within a reasonable timeframe.

Relevant: objectives should be directly linked to the mission and vision of the organization.

Time-bound: Performance objectives should specify a timeframe in which an objective should be accomplished, which helps to make sure work is accomplished in a timely manner.

For more guidance on constructing goals and SMART objectives, review this worksheet:

Step 4: Construct indicators

Constructing indicators can be very straight forward if SMART objectives can be carefully constructed to be measurable. For each SMART objective, construct one or more ways you will verify to yourself and your stakeholders that you are making progress.

Step 5: Plan for monitoring and evaluation

Planning for monitoring and evaluation helps to ensure that your efforts to plan strategically are not wasted. Monitoring progress toward goals can happen as often as you feel is helpful. A general guideline is that at least once every three months you should set aside time to review your goals and SMART objectives and reflect on progress.

Recording your progress toward each of your goals can also help when you need to do donor reporting in a timely fashion.

For more information on best practices in monitoring and evaluation consider reviewing Monitoring and Evaluation: Best Practices.

Further resources