What Strategic Planning is — and Isn’t

What Strategic Planning is — and Isn’t

Ever wonder exactly what a strategic plan is? And if there is more than one kind of ‘plan.’ Well you’re not alone in this confusion as there are a few different versions of plans out there. And more than one strategy has failed to get off the ground due to this fundamental misunderstanding.

Strategic plans sometimes get confused with other types of planning prototypes, each one valid in its own right but geared toward a different end result. Simply put, not every plan is a strategic plan.


A true Strategic Plan is a statement for the accomplishing of a broad objective, while overcoming existing obstacles to the objective with maximum efficiency and impact. To be effective and useful, it should articulate how the goal(s) will be achieved (the bright idea that solves the problem or barrier) with a clever use of resources or maneuvers to accomplish this. This type of plan is the central strategy that is worked out at the top, which like an umbrella, covers the activities of the echelons below it. In short, the tactical steps that follow will be successful to the degree the strategic plan follows this format.


An Operating Plan is a coordinated set of actions for carrying out the goals delineated in a strategic plan. This is  sometimes referred to as a ‘program’ and goes into greater detail than the strategic plan as it articulates time frames and the roles of individual staff who will carry out the action steps to accomplish the strategic plan. Time frame targets can be set to shorten the time needed to accomplish the overall program.  These action steps are also referred to as ‘tactics’.


A Business Plan is typically focused on the actions and investment necessary to generate income from a specific program or service. A business plan includes information about an organization’s products, its competitive environment and delineates a marketing strategy to best the competition in order to realize its stated revenue goals.


A Case Statement is geared toward marketing and fundraising activities rather than planning. It describes the organizations goals, capabilities and strengths and the benefits it provides. Its purpose is to secure contributions and grants from individuals, foundations, corporate giving programs and other philanthropic entities.