An important activity in strategic planning is gathering and analyzing information. This activity typically consists of three components: an external assessment, a market or constituent assessment and an internal assessment.
The purpose of the external assessment is to identify and assess changes and trends in the world around the nonprofit likely to have a significant impact on it over the next 5-10 years. We'll look at political, economic, technological, social, lifestyle, demographic, competitive, regulatory and broad philanthropic trends. We then determine which changes are opportunities for us (for example, opportunities to grow) and which could be threats to us in some way (trends that can keep us from being successful). Finally we identify implications for selected changes and trends -- ways the nonprofit might respond to the opportunities and threats we identify. At this early stage of the planning process, saying that something is an implication does not require the nonprofit to adopt that course of action. The external assessment is sometimes referred to as the “environmental scan.”
I recently came across a good resource for environmental scanning. It’s entitled “Scanning the Landscape: Finding Out What’s Going on in Your Field”. It’s published by GrantCraft, a program of the Ford Foundation. While this guide is written for the grantmaking community, the general guidance and the description of approaches for gathering and analyzing information are excellent and applicable to most strategic planning and thinking efforts. Go to: http://www.grantcraft.org/catalog/guides/scanning/index.html.