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    Creating A Strategic Plan For Your Animal Sanctuary

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    This resource has been partially reviewed and updated as of April 22, 2021

    Video Resource: Strategic Planning For Animal Sanctuaries

    Check out this captioned webinar hosted by The Global Coalition of Farm Sanctuaries and led by Krista Hiddema and JoVanna Johnson Cooke about their experience developing a strategic plan for JoVanna’s organization, Awali, along with their board. It goes through all the elements that went into their strategic plan, in addition to the importance of each aspect of the process, and the many accompanying discussions that they had throughout the process! It’s a great discussion to share with your team and board as you develop or refine your organization’s strategic plan!

    Further Resources For This Video Resource

    The “Business” Of Saving Animals

    Although it might sound antithetical to the altruistic mission of “taking care of animals in need without seeking profit”, one of the most valuable tools for an animal sanctuary is a sound strategic plan, also sometimes known as a “business plan”. Even if you never officially register as a tax-exempt non-profit, thinking about and crafting a strategic plan can help you establish helpful protocols, realistic strategies, and achievable goals that you might not have otherwise considered or put to paper. Putting plans into place should be considered a primary step to ensuring the ongoing protection and well-being of your residents and the future of your mission.

    Sanctuary? Business?

    Making a “business plan” does not mean you should ever profit off of your residents or start selling things, it just happens to be what this type of plan is known as.

    A strategic plan is also greatly useful in soliciting major donors and philanthropic organizations (as they will typically require a robust strategy before considering giving), recruiting talented and informed board members, to guide your organization at crossroads and in times of uncertainty, and to apply for a business loan (especially if you want to later set up some sort of enterprise to help fund your organization like a gift shop or store).

    A strategic plan doesn’t have to be written with public consumption in mind (though it can be quite valuable from a transparency perspective); even if you plan on only sharing it internally to help manage your team, it can still be invaluable for solving conflicts and answering questions before they turn into chaos.

    Already Stressed?

    If it sounds overwhelming to craft, start small! A business plan can and should grow and evolve along with your organization as you face new challenges and opportunities!

    But First, Create A Needs Assessment

    The first step in the process of crafting a strategic plan is what’s known as a “needs assessment” (also known as a “needs analysis”). This is simply researching the focus and effectiveness of your organization. Are your programs serving the population you’re targeting effectively? Are other organizations near you doing the same thing, but more effectively? Why or why not? Find some actual quantitative data to make this case, as it will be instrumental in demonstrating how valuable your organization is. This is crucial if you’re looking for robust philanthropic giving.

    Things Not Looking Good?

    You might find that certain parts of your organization aren’t working or could use a lot of overhaul in this part of the process. This is a good thing! It means that you’re thinking critically and can orient your resources towards a more effective strategy to do more good.

    Elements of a Non-Profit Strategic Plan

    Now that you’re sitting down to draft your strategic plan, consider incorporating the following elements. If an element doesn’t serve your organization for whatever reason, think about an alternative element that more closely aligns with what you’re setting out to accomplish.

    Cover Page

    This one should be pretty easy to make, but quite important! It should have your organization’s name prominently displayed, your company’s logo and color scheme, an explanation of what they’re looking at (if it’s a strategic plan, make sure it says “Strategic Plan”!), and a date so that everyone can know how up to date this plan is. It should also include key contact information in case anyone wants to get in touch with someone at your organization. Optionally, you might want to consider adding a confidentiality statement depending on what you’re writing about in the plan and whether you want that information to be easily reproducible. A sample confidentiality statement might look something like this:

    This document includes proprietary and confidential information of and regarding [Your Organization’s Name]. You may not use this document except for informational purposes. You may not reproduce this document in whole or in part, or divulge any of its contents without the prior written consent of [Your Organization’s Name]. By accepting this document, you agree to be bound by these restrictions and limitations.

    Table of Contents

    Make this last! Pretty much just a list of what’s in the document and what page to find it on. Page numbers are very helpful!

    Executive Summary

    This one page (yes, only one page) summary is a concise and easily parsable overview of everything else in your strategic plan. It’s probably going to be the last thing you sit down to write as you need to use the rest of your strategic plan to craft it. It should be interesting and engaging to anyone reading it. The executive summary should include your organization’s mission statement, a brief history, your strengths (uniquely yours!), and your assets. Include a list of your programs and services, your marketing plans, and both short and long term financing strategies. What is your organization’s ultimate goal? How are you trying to reach it? What does your future look like?

    Who Even Reads These?

    Imagine that your most important donor is reading only your executive summary to make a giving decision. This is your opportunity to address everything they’d need to know and make them feel good about giving!


    How did your organization get started? What progress have you made to date? This only needs to be 2-3 paragraphs of information.

    Your Organization’s Structure

    How is your organization structured? Who are the founders and why are they invested in this mission? Who are the board members and why were they chosen? What strategies will you take to further develop your board? How is the board structured? You can also provide a short bio for each team member and how they fit into the organization here.

    Your Organization’s Mission, Vision, And Values

    This is where you’ll include your mission statement, a very short and concise statement that encapsulates why your organization exists, who it serves, and how it actually serves them. For instance, the nonprofit Watts of Love’s mission statement is “Watts of Love is a global solar lighting nonprofit bringing people the power to raise themselves out of the darkness of poverty”– an easy to read and inspiring summary of their goal and motivation. 

    You should also include your vision statement here. Where the mission statement typically focuses on the here and now, your vision statement should focus on your organization’s hopes for the future. What vision do you have for the world? What specific objectives do you have to realize this vision? Who and what are you inspiring to change? What plans do you have for the future? The Open Sanctuary Project, Inc’s vision statement is “A world where every farmed animal sanctuary is a success story“.

    Here you can flesh out an explanation of your intended impact on the community (or the world at large), as well as metrics of success. For instance, what measurable change in behavior do you want to cause to happen as a result of what your organization does?

    On the flip side, this is also a good place to be explicit about what your organization doesn’t do. By defining this, you can help stay on strategy and on track without getting distracted by goals that you never wanted to focus on!

    Your Organization’s Master Plan

    Here you should describe in detail your organization’s current property, how you plan on developing your property within a set time frame, and an exploration into how you’ll use your property to its highest potential.

    Your Organization’s Objectives

    What are your organization’s objectives in the short term? How long do you expect them to take?

    For instance, if your objectives are about property improvements, describe your objectives and how they’ll impact your property, structures, and residents. In cases like this, you could also include a labeled drawing or overhead photo of your property to illustrate what objectives you’d like to accomplish clearly.

    Similarly, what are your organization’s long term objectives? Include objectives, time frames, and visual aids if appropriate for these as well.

    Your Organization’s Signature Programs

    What are your primary programs? Great visitor outreach? Resident rehabilitation? Describe them here in detail.

    Your Organization’s Location

    Describe how your organization’s location benefits your mission. Are there good signage opportunities? Are you close to many population centers? Airports? Universities? Do you have a great veterinary program nearby? Is the climate ideal? List anything you can think of to sell your location!

    Your Organization’s Hours Of Operation

    Describe your visitation strategy. What hours, days, and seasonal considerations should someone know about? What is your tour structure if you’re open to the public? How do people make visitation reservations?

    Your Organization’s Audience And Supporters

    Who’s your audience? Who supports you? How will you grow the following segments?

    • Your Donors
    • Your Sanctuary’s Visitors
    • Your Volunteers
    • Your Email list
    • The total number of prospects in database
    • Your Website visitors
    • Your social media presence

    The Market And Market Competition Around You

    Who makes up your target market or ideal visitor? What are the statistics about demographics in your market, such as population, growth rate, annual household income, median age, families with dependent children, nearby universities, and proximity to metropolitan areas (including what veg businesses are in the area)? How many of these people would be a good recruitment base for potential volunteers?

    Where’s the closest similar organization to your organization? Why is your organization unique and how does it have a competitive advantage compared to all other organizations with a similar mission?

    Perform a SWOT analysis across all areas that impact your organization. This is a gridded evaluation where you list your organization’s strengths (what you do or can do well), weaknesses (what you aren’t doing as well), opportunities (external factors that could benefit or enhance these areas), and threats (external factors that could be a negative to these areas) for each category. These categories can be tailored to your needs but include factors such as location, property, facilities, climate, team, staffing, volunteers, interns, resident animal population, skills, partnerships, fundraising, internet presence, visitors, reputation, business model, program areas, and animal safety.

    Your Organization’s Priorities

    What are your priority areas when it comes to developing your organization? Include a description for each one, goals for each area with projected completion dates, and who in your organization is responsible for each goal.

    Typically, a priority area is quite a broad topic whereas goals within those areas are specific. A priority area might be something like physical space, staffing, marketing, community awareness, programming, relationship building, and donor base engagement.

    Your Organization’s Operational and Capital Needs

    Here you’ll describe your organization’s short and long term revenue needs, as well as a three-year revenue and expense projection with separate income and expense categories.The more clear you are here, the easier the next step will be to clarify.

    Your Organization’s Development And Fundraising Plan

    How are you planning on developing as an organization? What specific, actionable, deadline-focused steps are you taking in the short and long term? When it comes to fundraising, make sure to detail your fundraising goal (not an arbitrary number, but one that you can justify through projected need and previous goals), your mission and messaging (including what you plan on doing with the raised funds), exactly what fundraising channels you’ll use in the short and long term, and a timeline for each of your fundraising strategies and goals.

    Include Appendices

    Appendices are additional resources that are helpful to include but don’t need to be in the middle of your strategic plan. This includes things like job descriptions for key positions in your organization, a board recruitment plan, a salary breakdown for the current and subsequent next few years, a current and subsequent year budget breakdown for your operational needs, promotional material, annual reports, and anything else that you think would help someone understand your organization, where it’s been, and where it’s going.

    Revisit And Revise

    Your strategic plan shouldn’t just live somewhere in the depths of a filing cabinet. You should frequently revisit the document and update it as your organization grows and changes. The strategic plan is here to serve you, so make sure it stays relevant!

    While you are still in a growth and development phase of your organization, you may want to revise it more frequently, perhaps every year or two. As your organization matures, you might be able to stretch that timeframe out to every two to five years, but it’s still important to revisit at some interval, just to make sure you’re still on track!


    Why Do I Need A Business Plan For My Nonprofit? | The Balance

    How To Write A Nonprofit Business Plan | Bplans

    5 Business Plan Cover Page Tips | GrowThink

    How To Write An Amazing Nonprofit Mission Statement | The Balance

    Difference Between Vision And Mission Statements With Examples | Clear Voice

    How To Write A Successful Fundraising Plan | The Fundraising Authority

    What Is Branding? | SERP University

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