Charity Strategic Plan Template And Guide, Including SWOT And PESTLE Analysis Worked Examples

A practical, 3 step strategic plan template and guide to create your charity's strategy, including how to carry out your PESTLE and SWOT analysis, with examples.

Three Steps To Creating Your Non Profit Strategic Plan

We can't change what's happening in the outside world, but we can respond to the threats and exploit opportunities.  This non profit strategic planning toolkit gives you a simple 3 step process to use to create your charity's strategy, with worked examples to help you.    

  • Step 1 - PESTLE Analysis - identifying the key issues for your charity in the outside world.
  • Step 2 - SWOT Analysis - bringing the outside world threats and opportunities together with your internal strengths and weaknesses to create your strategic plan. 
  • Step 3 - implementing your charity’s strategic plan to ensure it’s a success.  

What The CEF Data Tells Us About The Charity Sector Now

The CEF Data Store tracks performance across the charity sector.  During 2021, communications has moved from amber (charities report they are not doing this well) to green.  Of the 21 top level indicators, 3 are at amber.  Sustainability will come as no surprise, but weak management of fundraising might.  The CEF doesn't measure the availability of funding, but how well we carry out fundraising.  With competition so challenging that offers charities a real opportunity to achieve more. 

Strategy is also at amber and has been since 2018.  That represents a real risk in the current climate.  Weaknesses include, not assessing funding needs effectively, a lack of realism in target and objective setting, not focussing on delivering impact and not engaging people in the strategy. To find out how to make your strategic planning more effective, complete the CEF Strategy questionnaire.  

The good news is that most of the weaknesses reported by charities, across all areas of activity, are not about the lack of resources, but rather how well we manage them.  That offers us real opportunity to achieve more, despite the lack of funding. Join the Charity Excellence community and the system will analyse your charity in depth, to find where your opportunities are, then connect you to all the resources and support you will need to exploit these.  It takes 2 mins to register here and 30 mins to complete the strategy questionnaire; everything is free.  

STEP 1 - PESTLE Analysis: What The Future Might Hold In Store For Your Charity

You cannot control the outside world and what happens will directly impact on your charity, but you can respond to it.  PESTLE analysis is about looking outside your charity to identify risks and opportunities.  It is an acronym for Political, Ecomonic, Sociological (Society), Technological, Legal and Environmental.  PESTLE analysis is the format most often used in the charity sector, but it is simply one of numerours frameworks.  You can download a template to use and a worked example from the strategy questionnaire.  As woith all strategy, it is the quality of thinking that matters, not the process, so do not be put off by the terminology.  

What is PESTLE Analysis?

Do not worry too much about being exact about the headings, or which heading any factor goes into.  PESTLE analysis is an aid to thinking, not something to follow slavishly, but what does matter is that you identify all the key issues in the outside world for your charity.

Big changes in the outside world may seem a bit remote for your charity.  However, a global economic downturn would impact the UK and, ultimately, your finances.  Covid is another example.  However, it could be UK issues such as Brexit impacting our laws and supply chains.  But don't forget your local region and locally. A change in local politics, economics or major projects could have a substantial impact on you.  Nobody knows what will happen, so it's all a bit vague, but that's what PESTLE analysis is for.  It gives you a structure to think through and make the best estimates you are able to.   

  • Political - major issues that impact everyone, such as the impact of Covid and Brexit, but also priorities and policies that are directly relevant to your work.  
  • Economic - the impact of economic factors that may impact your charity and/or your beneficiaries, such as inflation driving cost increases. 
  • Sociological - Changes that affect society generally, such as the rise of home working , but may be geographical, such as the housing shortage in London, or that relate to your beneficiaries or mission.  
  • Technological - advances such as the ever growing number of social media platforms and the impact these may have on Society, such as the growth in online abuse and cyber-crime, or specific technological issues relating to the charity’s mission. 
  • Legal - wider implications, such as the possible impact on relevant UK laws post Brexit and also changes in laws directly impacting your charity, such as lobbying, employment, H&SW, safeguarding or environmental.  
  • Environmental - the impact of climate change on all of us and whether your charity is, or should be more environmentally aware. 

How To Create Your PESTLE Analysis

Don't Sweat The Detail.  Do not worry too much about being exact about the headings, or which heading any factor goes into. PESTLE analysis is an aid to thinking, not something to follow slavishly, but what does matter is that you identify all the key issues for your charity.

How To Do It.  Take each of the headings in turn and identify any potential factors that may impact your charity. These may be global, UK wide, regional or local. Do not worry about having factors for each heading and don't worry too much about which heading to put these under. That doesn't really matter. What matters is that you identify those external factors that are most likely to impact your charity.

What That Looks Like In Practice.  Fine in theory, but what does that look like in practice? Let's look at Covid. The impact on service delivery and funding is sadly all too obvious. However, there are wider issues. It has had a disproportionate impact on the BAME and disabled communities, and lockdown has made mental health challenges significantly worse and also led to an increase in domestic abuse. The increase in inflation, fuel costs and national insurance, will make this a bleak year for many, including charity staff, who are often low paid. More positively, new medical advances will benefit many in due course, the contribution of front line workers became more widely recognised and home working may have all sorts of benefits. What does that mean for your charity and what else is happening that matters to you?

Which Factors Really Matter?  Once you have completed your PESTLE analysis, from the factors you have chosen, identify those that are most likely to be critical for you. These will be the Opportunities and Threats in your SWOT analysis.

Using Your PESTLE Analysis For Strategic Planning

The factors above, may or may not impact on your charity and relevant strategic factors may be global, UK and/or local. And may be related.

For example, will the increasing focus on climate change or the impact of Black Lives Matter, make your local council more willing to consider backing charities working in these areas.

Or, it might be a new council leader with sympathy for your cause, or new facilities opening that you could use, or a major company moving into your area whose values fit with your work, or something else maybe?

There are always opportunities (and emerging risks) for those who look for them and they will be best placed to respond to these.

STEP 2 - SWOT Analysis: Creating Your Charity's Strategy

There isn’t enough funding and there isn’t going to be.  Boards that act strategically to the emerging threats and opportunities, will be far more able to mitigate risk, and find new ways of working to increase their impact and use resources more effectively.   

The Strategic Planning Process

Strategy is about making the best decision you are able to, based on the best evidence you have.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you do need to have a logical, structured process, challenge positively, be prepared to think about new ways of doing things, take people with you and make decisions based on the available evidence. 

We cannot control the events in the outside world, so effective strategy isn’t about deciding what we want to do, but rather understanding how that may impact your work, and focussing your resources to exploit the opportunities and mitigate the threats facing your charity.  

SWOT Analysis - External Threats & Opportunities 

These are the O and T in your SWOT.  Your opportunities and threats are the key factors from your PESTLE analysis and, whether any factor is an opportunity or a threat, may depend on what you do about it.  The 2008 recession was a disaster for Tesco, but enabled Lidls to go from being a minor supermarket to a mainstream business.  

SWOT Analysis - Internal Strengths And Weaknesses

These are the S and W in your SWOT.  If you’re a trustee, download the CEF Board Bingo game for your next meeting to find out what yours are.  


We’re usually feel able to identify our strengths, but it’s always worth thinking through this.  

  • Known Strengths - We are really great at x, but might that be partly based on what we do that we personally value, rather than an actual strength? A case in point is that I know Scotland has the greatest football team on earth, despite the fact that (sadly) there isn’t a huge amount of evidence to support this.
  • Unknown Strengths – Sometimes other capabilities that aren’t really thought of as strengths, might be very useful.  Perhaps something you've always taken for granted, or which has become important, because of what you've identified in your PESTLE.

Write down every strength you can think of, then test each in turn by asking yourself what measurable evidence do we have that demonstrates that to be the case?  Identify the key ones.    


Even the very best amongst us have weaknesses, but many find identifying these the most difficult aspect of strategy.  But, these are usually the best opportunities we have to achieve more.   

Sector Weaknesses - The CEF Data Store aggregates all user data anonymously to create Big Data for the sector.  The metrics at amber are strategy, fundraising, sustainability and how realistic we are in our planning and target setting.  That is the majority of charities do not do these well.  Are you one of them?

Challenges - We have fantastic people, but people are often resistant to change and talking about ‘weaknesses’ almost always makes people react defensively.  I find that approaching this as looking for opportunities to achieve even more helps.  The very best organisations always celebrate their successes then ask - how might we do even better next time? 

Creating Your Charity Strategic Plan - SWOT Analysis

Bring your Strengths and Weaknesses together with you Opportunities and Threats to create your SWOT analysis. If you wish to, you could identify those that are particularly important or urgent. Then use this to create your strategy.   Watch this Charity Excellence ‘How To’ video (3 mins) for how to do your SWOT really well.

The image at the top of this resource is an example, which highlights those issues that are particularly important, or urgent.  The arrows show linkages that can be used to create a strategy.  For example:

  • Using your strengths to exploit opportunities, and/or to;
  • Address weakness, and/or to
  • Mitigate/avoid threats.
  • Or better still, could you turn a threat into an opportunity?

Assess your SWOT analsyis and choose the best way forward for your charity - that's your strategy.  Decide what you will need to achieve in order to deliver your strategy.  These are your strategic objectives.  Use this Charity Excellence planning toolkit, template and checklist to create your strategic plan.  It can also be used for your annual business, fundraising or other plans. 

STEP 3 - Implementing Your Non Profit Strategic Plan

Strategy isn’t a plan, it’s what a charity does and that involves everybody, ideally from the outset.  It’s important to engage people and turn your strategic plan into the timetable, budgets and  actions needed for them to deliver it and your progress to be monitored.  

The World is full of detailed and beautifully crafted plans sitting on shelves gathering dust.  in any, except the smallest of charities, it is your staff and volunteers who will deliver your plan, so they need to know what you want them to do and feel motivated to do so.  Too often, that's no more than e mailing the strategy to everyone, which probably won't be read and, if it is, may not mean much to its readers. 

You need to communicate your plan in a simple, clear way that engages them. It also needs to be reflected in any other plans or procedures. For example, your budget and risk plans, any project plans and, for larger charities, appraisal objectives and departmental work plans. 

Whatever you do, don’t put it on the shelf and leave it there. 

Fundraising Strategic Planning

To build on this to create your fundraising strategy, use Toolkit 2

Theory Of Change (ToC)

Strategy can be confused with Theory of Change.  These are similar and can support each other so, if you're thinking about incorporating ToC into your strategy, this Charity Excellence ToC resource enables you to understand what it is, how it works, how to do it and the key points on ToC. 

Access All The Free Strategy Resources & Free Funding Database

Join the free Charity Excellence online toolkit to assess how well you manage stategy, online in 30 mins, with links to lots more stratgic planning resources and organisations who will help you for free.  

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