How to write a business plan for a not for profit organization?
Putting together a business plan for a not for profit organization can be daunting - especially if you're creating a business for the first time - but with this comprehensive guide, you'll have the necessary tools to do it confidently.
We will explore why writing one is so important in both starting up and growing an existing not for profit organization, as well as what should go into making an effective plan - from its structure to content - and what tools can be used to streamline the process and avoid errors.
Without further ado, let us begin!
Why write a business plan for a not for profit organization?
Being clear on the scope and goals of the document will make it easier to understand its structure and content. So before diving into the actual content of the plan, let's have a quick look at the main reasons why you would want to write a not for profit organization business plan in the first place.
To have a clear roadmap to grow the business
Running a small business is tough! Economic cycles bring growth and recessions, while the business landscape is ever-changing with new technologies, regulations, competitors, and consumer behaviours emerging constantly.
In such a dynamic context, operating a business without a clear roadmap is akin to driving blindfolded: it's risky, to say the least. That's why crafting a business plan for your not for profit organization is vital to establish a successful and sustainable venture.
To create an effective business plan, you'll need to assess your current position (if you're already in business) and define where you want the business to be in the next three to five years.
Once you have a clear destination for your not for profit organization, you'll have to:
- Identify the necessary resources (human, equipment, and capital) needed to reach your goals,
- Determine the pace at which the business needs to progress to meet its objectives as scheduled,
- Recognize and address the potential risks you may encounter along the way.
Engaging in this process regularly proves advantageous for both startups and established companies. It empowers you to make informed decisions about resource allocation, ensuring the long-term success of your business.
To anticipate future cash flows
Regularly comparing your actual financial performance to the projections in the financial forecast of your not for profit organization's business plan gives you the ability to monitor your business's financial health and make necessary adjustments as needed.
This practice allows you to detect potential financial issues, such as unexpected cash shortfalls before they escalate into major problems. Giving you time to find additional financing or put in place corrective measures.
Additionally, it helps you identify growth opportunities, like excess cash flow that could be allocated to launch new products and services or expand into new markets.
Staying on track with these regular comparisons enables you to make well-informed decisions about the amount of financing your business might require, or the excess cash flow you can expect to generate from your main business activities.
To secure financing
Crafting a comprehensive business plan for your not for profit organization, whether you're starting up or already established, is paramount when you're seeking financing from banks or investors.
Given how fragile small businesses are, financiers will want to ensure that you have a clear roadmap in place as well as command and control of your future cash flows before entertaining the idea of funding you.
For banks, the information in your business plan will be used to assess your borrowing capacity - which is defined as the maximum amount of debt your business can afford alongside your ability to repay the loan. This evaluation helps them decide whether to extend credit to your business and under what terms (interest rate, duration, repayment options, collateral, etc.).
Similarly, investors will thoroughly review your plan to determine if their investment can yield an attractive return. They'll be looking for evidence that your not for profit organization has the potential for healthy growth, profitability, and consistent cash flow generation over time.
Now that you understand the importance of creating a business plan for your not for profit organization, let's delve into the necessary information needed to craft an effective plan.
What information is needed to create a business plan for a not for profit organization?
Writing a not for profit organization business plan requires research so that you can project sales, investments and cost accurately in your financial forecast.
In this section, we cover three key pieces of information you should gather before drafting your business plan!
Carrying out market research for a not for profit organization
Carrying out market research before writing a business plan for a not for profit organization is essential to ensure that the financial projections are accurate and realistic.
Market research helps you gain insight into your target customer base, competitors, pricing strategies and other key factors which can have an impact on the commercial success of your business.
In particular, it is useful in forecasting revenue as it provides valuable data regarding potential customers’ spending habits and preferences.
Your market research may reveal that your not for profit organization could be well-positioned to capitalize on a trend toward increased online giving. Additionally, your market research may uncover that there is a potential trend toward increased volunteering, which could provide your organization with more resources to help further its cause.
This information can then be used to create more accurate financial projections which will help investors make informed decisions about investing in your not for profit organization.
Developing the marketing plan for a not for profit organization
Before delving into your not for profit organization business plan, it's imperative to budget for sales and marketing expenses.
To achieve this, a comprehensive sales and marketing plan is essential. This plan should provide an accurate projection of the necessary actions to acquire and retain customers.
Additionally, it will outline the required workforce to carry out these initiatives and the corresponding budget for promotions, advertising, and other marketing endeavours.
By budgeting accordingly, you can ensure that the right resources are allocated to these vital activities, aligning them with the sales and growth objectives outlined in your business plan.
The staffing and equipment needs of a not for profit organization
As you embark on starting or expanding your not for profit organization, having a clear plan for recruitment and capital expenditures (investment in equipment and real estate) is essential for ensuring your business's success.
Both the recruitment and investment plans must align with the timing and level of growth projected in your forecast, and they require appropriate funding.
The staffing costs for a not for profit organization might include salaries for employees, such as a director, administrative staff, and volunteers. In addition, the organization might need to provide benefits such as health insurance and retirement contributions for employees. Equipment costs might include computers, software, office furniture, and other necessary items for the organization to operate.
To create a realistic financial forecast, you also need to consider other operating expenses associated with the day-to-day running of your business, such as insurance and bookkeeping.
With all the necessary information at hand, you are ready to begin crafting your business plan and developing your financial forecast.
What goes into your not for profit organization's financial forecast?
The objective of the financial forecast of your not for profit organization's business plan is to show the growth, profitability, funding requirements, and cash generation potential of your business over the next 3 to 5 years.
The four key outputs of a financial forecast for a not for profit organization are:
- The profit and loss (P&L) statement,
- The projected balance sheet,
- The cash flow forecast,
- And the sources and uses table.
Let's look at each of these in a bit more detail.
The projected P&L statement
The projected P&L statement for a not for profit organization shows how much revenue and profits your business is expected to generate in the future.
Ideally, your not for profit organization's P&L statement should show:
- Healthy growth - above inflation level
- Improving or stable profit margins
- Positive net profit
Expectations will vary based on the stage of your business. A startup will be expected to grow faster than an established not for profit organization. And similarly, an established company should showcase a higher level of profitability than a new venture.
The projected balance sheet of your not for profit organization
The balance sheet for a not for profit organization is a financial document that provides a snapshot of your business’s financial health at a given point in time.
It shows three main components: assets, liabilities and equity:
- Assets: are resources owned by the business, such as cash, equipment, and accounts receivable (money owed by clients).
- Liabilities: are debts owed to creditors and other entities, such as accounts payable (money owed to suppliers) and loans.
- Equity: includes the sums invested by the shareholders or business owners and the cumulative profits and losses of the business to date (called retained earnings). It is a proxy for the value of the owner's stake in the business.
Examining the balance sheet is important for lenders, investors, or other stakeholders who are interested in assessing your not for profit organization's liquidity and solvency:
- Liquidity: assesses whether or not your business has sufficient cash and short-term assets to honour its liabilities due over the next 12 months. It is a short-term focus.
- Solvency: assesses whether or not your business has the capacity to repay its debt over the medium-term.
Looking at the balance sheet can also provide insights into your not for profit organization's investment and financing policies.
In particular, stakeholders can compare the value of equity to the value of the outstanding financial debt to assess how the business is funded and what level of financial risk has been taken by the owners (financial debt is riskier because it has to be repaid, while equity doesn't need to be repaid).
The projected cash flow statement
A cash flow forecast for a not for profit organization shows how much cash the business is projected to generate or consume.
The cash flow statement is divided into 3 main areas:
- The operating cash flow shows how much cash is generated or consumed by the operations (running the business)
- The investing cash flow shows how much cash is being invested in capital expenditure (equipment, real estate, etc.)
- The financing cash flow shows how much cash is raised or distributed to investors and lenders
Looking at the cash flow forecast helps you to ensure that your business has enough cash to keep running, and can help you anticipate potential cash shortfalls.
It is also a best practice to include a monthly cash flow statement in the appendices of your not for profit organization business plan so that the readers can view the impact of seasonality on your business cash position and generation.
The initial financing plan
The sources and uses table or initial financing plan is a key component of your business plan when starting a not for profit organization.
It shows where the capital needed to set up the business will come from (sources) and how it will be spent (uses).
This table helps size the investment required to set up the not for profit organization, and understand how risks will be distributed between the business owners, and the financiers.
The sources and uses table also highlights what the starting cash position will be. This is key for startups as the business needs to have sufficient funding to sustain operations until the break-even point is reached.
Now that you have a clear understanding of what will go into the financial forecast of your not for profit organization business plan, let's have a look at the written part of the plan.
The written part of a not for profit organization business plan
The written part of a not for profit organization business plan plays a key role: it lays out the plan of action you intend to execute to seize the commercial opportunity you've identified on the market and provides the context needed for the reader to decide if they believe your plan to be achievable and your financial forecast to be realistic.
The written part of a not for profit organization business plan is composed of 7 main sections:
- The executive summary
- The presentation of the company
- The products and services
- The market analysis
- The strategy
- The operations
- The financial plan
Let's go through the content of each section in more detail!
1. The executive summary
In your not for profit organization's business plan, the first section is the executive summary — a captivating overview of your plan that aims to pique the reader's interest and leave them eager to learn more about your business.
When crafting the executive summary, start with an introduction to your business, including its name, concept, location, how long it has been running, and what sets it apart. Briefly mention the products and services you plan to offer and your target customer profile.
Following that, provide an overview of the addressable market for your not for profit organization, current trends, and potential growth opportunities.
Next, include a summary of key financial figures like projected revenues, profits, and cash flows.
Finally, in the "ask" section, detail any funding requirements you may have.
2. The presentation of the company
As you build your not for profit organization business plan, the second section deserves attention as it delves into the structure and ownership, location, and management team of your company.
In the structure and ownership part, you'll provide valuable insights into the legal structure of the business, the identities of the owners, and their respective investments and ownership stakes. This level of transparency is vital, particularly if you're seeking financing, as it clarifies which legal entity will receive the funds and who holds the reins of the business.
Moving to the location part, you'll offer a comprehensive view of the company's premises and articulate why this specific location is strategic for the business, emphasizing factors like catchment area, accessibility, and nearby amenities.
When describing the location of your not for profit organization, you may want to emphasize the potential for growth and connection in the area. You could discuss the accessibility to transportation networks, as well as the potential for increased visibility due to its proximity to a major metropolitan area. Additionally, you might highlight the availability of local resources and services that could benefit your organization. All of these factors could make the location attractive to a third party financier.
Lastly, you should introduce your esteemed management team. Provide a thorough explanation of each member's role, background, and extensive experience.
It's equally important to highlight any past successes the management team has achieved and underscore the duration they've been working together. This information will instil trust in potential lenders or investors, showcasing the strength and expertise of your leadership team and their ability to deliver the business plan.
3. The products and services section
The products and services section of your not for profit organization business plan should include a detailed description of what your company sells to its customers.
For example, your not for profit organization might offer educational classes to help people learn new skills, such as computer programming, financial literacy, or job readiness. It might also offer job placement assistance, providing guidance and support to those looking for employment. Additionally, it could provide a food pantry or access to other resources to help people meet basic needs. These services provide the opportunity for people to learn, grow, and gain greater access to resources that can help them improve their lives.
The reader will want to understand what makes your not for profit organization unique from other businesses in this competitive market.
When drafting this section, you should be precise about the categories of products or services you sell, the clients you are targeting and the channels that you are targeting them through.
4. The market analysis
When you present your market analysis in your not for profit organization business plan, it's crucial to include detailed information about customers' demographics and segmentation, target market, competition, barriers to entry, and any relevant regulations.
The main objective of this section is to help the reader understand the size and attractiveness of the market while demonstrating your solid understanding of the industry.
Begin with the demographics and segmentation subsection, providing an overview of the addressable market for your not for profit organization, the key trends in the marketplace, and introducing different customer segments along with their preferences in terms of purchasing habits and budgets.
Next, focus on your target market, zooming in on the specific customer segments your not for profit organization aims to serve and explaining how your products and services fulfil their distinct needs.
For example, your target market might include people who are passionate about a specific cause, such as animal rights or environmental conservation. These customers may be willing to donate their time or money to support the organization’s mission. They may also be eager to share their enthusiasm for the cause with friends and family.
Then proceed to the competition subsection, where you introduce your main competitors and highlight what sets you apart from them.
Finally, conclude your market analysis with an overview of the key regulations applicable to your not for profit organization.
5. The strategy section
When crafting the strategy section of your business plan for your not for profit organization, it's important to cover several key aspects, including your competitive edge, pricing strategy, sales & marketing plan, milestones, and risks and mitigants.
In the competitive edge subsection, clearly explain what sets your company apart from competitors. This is particularly critical if you're a startup, as you'll be trying to establish your presence in the marketplace among entrenched players.
The pricing strategy subsection should demonstrate how you aim to maintain profitability while offering competitive prices to your customers.
For the sales & marketing plan, outline how you plan to reach and acquire new customers, as well as retain existing ones through loyalty programs or special offers.
In the milestones subsection, detail what your company has achieved thus far and outline your primary objectives for the coming years by including specific dates for expected progress. This ensures everyone involved has clear expectations.
Lastly, in the risks and mitigants subsection, list the main risks that could potentially impact the execution of your plan. Explain the measures you've taken to minimize these risks. This is vital for investors or lenders to feel confident in supporting your venture - try to proactively address any objection they might have.
Your not for profit organization could face a number of risks that may affect its ability to achieve its mission. For example, it may experience a lack of awareness about the organization, meaning that donations may be slow to come in. Additionally, it may face reputational risks if it is associated with any negative press or scandals. These risks could have long-term impacts on the organization and its ability to deliver its mission.
6. The operations section
The operations of your not for profit organization must be presented in detail in your business plan.
The first thing you should cover in this section is your staffing team, the main roles, and the overall recruitment plan to support the growth expected in your business plan. You should also outline the qualifications and experience necessary to fulfil each role, and how you intend to recruit (using job boards, referrals, or headhunters).
You should then state the operating hours of your not for profit organization - so that the reader can check the adequacy of your staffing levels - and any plans for varying opening times during peak season. Additionally, the plan should include details on how you will handle customer queries outside of normal operating hours.
The next part of this section should focus on the key assets and IP required to operate your business. If you depend on any licenses or trademarks, physical structures (equipment or property) or lease agreements, these should all go in there.
You could have tangible assets such as buildings, land, and equipment. These are physical components that may help support the operations of the organization. Additionally, you might have intangible assets such as intellectual property. This could include copyright, trademarks, and patents that the organization might have developed or acquired. These pieces of intellectual property could be incredibly valuable to the organization and may help them to secure funding or partnerships in the future.
Finally, you should include a list of suppliers that you plan to work with and a breakdown of their services and main commercial terms (price, payment terms, contract duration, etc.). Investors are always keen to know if there is a particular reason why you have chosen to work with a specific supplier (higher-quality products or past relationships for example).
7. The presentation of the financial plan
The financial plan section is where we will include the financial forecast we discussed earlier in this guide.
Now that you have a clear idea of what goes into a not for profit organization business plan, let's look at some of the tools you can use to create yours efficiently.
What tool should I use to write my not for profit organization's business plan?
There are two main ways of creating your not for profit organization business plan:
- Using specialized business planning software,
- Hiring a business plan writer.
Using an online business plan software for your not for profit organization's business plan
Using online business planning software is the most efficient and modern way to write a not for profit organization business plan.
There are several advantages to using specialized software:
- You can easily create your financial forecast by letting the software take care of the financial calculations for you without errors
- You are guided through the writing process by detailed instructions and examples for each part of the plan
- You can access a library of dozens of complete business plan samples and templates for inspiration
- You get a professional business plan, formatted and ready to be sent to your bank or investors
- You can easily track your actual financial performance against your financial forecast
- You can create scenarios to stress test your forecast's main assumptions
- You can easily update your forecast as time goes by to maintain visibility on future cash flows
- You have a friendly support team on standby to assist you when you are stuck
If you're interested in using this type of solution, you can try The Business Plan Shop for free by signing up here.
Hiring a business plan writer to write your not for profit organization's business plan
Outsourcing your not for profit organization business plan to a business plan writer can also be a viable option.
Business plan writers are experienced in writing business plans and adept at creating financial forecasts without errors. Furthermore, hiring a consultant can save you time and allow you to focus on the day-to-day operations of your business.
However, hiring business plan writers is expensive as you are paying for the software used by the consultant, plus their time, and their profit margin of course.
From experience, you need to budget at least £1.5k ($2.0k) excluding tax for a complete business plan, more if you need to make changes after the initial version (which happens frequently after the initial meetings with lenders or investors).
You also need to be careful when seeking investment. Investors want their money to be used to grow the business, not spent on consulting fees. Therefore, the amount you spend on business plan writing services (and other consulting services such as legal services) needs to be negligible relative to the amount raised.
The other drawback is that you usually don't own the business plan itself: you just get the output, while the actual document is saved in the consultant's business plan software - which makes it difficult to maintain the document up to date without hiring the consultant on a retainer.
For these reasons, outsourcing the not for profit organization business plan to a business plan writer should be considered carefully, weighing both the advantages and disadvantages of hiring outside help.
Ultimately, it may be the right decision for some businesses, while others may find it beneficial to write their business plan using online software.
Why not create your not for profit organization's business plan using Word or Excel?
Using Microsoft Excel and Word (or their Google, Apple, or open-source equivalents) to write a not for profit organization business plan is a terrible idea.
For starters, creating an accurate and error-free financial forecast on Excel (or any spreadsheet) is very technical and requires both a strong grasp of accounting principles and solid skills in financial modelling.
As a result, it is unlikely anyone will trust your numbers unless - like us at The Business Plan Shop - you hold a degree in finance and accounting and have significant financial modelling experience in your past.
The second reason is that it is inefficient. Building forecasts on spreadsheets was the only option in the 1990s and early 2000s, nowadays technology has advanced and software can do it much faster and much more accurately.
And with the rise of AI, software is also becoming smarter at helping us detect mistakes in our forecasts and helping us analyse the numbers to make better decisions.
Also, using software makes it easy to compare actuals vs. forecasts and maintain our forecasts up to date to maintain visibility on future cash flows - as we discussed earlier in this guide - whereas this is a pain to do with a spreadsheet.
That's for the forecast, but what about the written part of my not for profit organization business plan?
This part is less error-prone, but here also software brings tremendous gains in productivity:
- Word processors don't include instructions and examples for each part of your business plan
- Word processors don't update your numbers automatically when they change in your forecast
- Word processors don't handle the formatting for you
Overall, while Word or Excel may be viable options for creating a not for profit organization business plan for some entrepreneurs, it is by far not the best or most efficient solution.
- A business plan has 2 complementary parts: a financial forecast showcasing the expected growth, profits and cash flows of the business; and a written part which provides the context needed to judge if the forecast is realistic and relevant.
- Having an up-to-date business plan is the only way to keep visibility on your not for profit organization's future cash flows.
- Using business plan software is the modern way of writing and maintaining business plans.
We hope that this practical guide gave you insights on how to write the business plan for your not for profit organization. Do not hesitate to get in touch with our team if you still have questions.
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