How to develop a business plan and what it should entail
When establishing a think tank, you will need to develop a business plan and fittingly formalize it. Especially as a grassroots think tank, you need a specific strategy for legalizing the think tank as a non-profit organization, and for successfully fundraising your project.
This is not always easy, especially if you have no experience in developing such a plan or any idea where to start. This document provides tips and information on how to develop your business plan and offers templates for some inspiration!
What is a Business Plan?
A business plan is not the same thing as a strategic plan. A business plan is about setting short- or mid-term goals and defining the essential steps to achieve them.
It might seem unnecessary, yet it can be an invaluable tool for your think tank. Even a short nonprofit business plan pushes you to do research, crystallize your purpose, and polish your message together as a team.
How might a think tank use a Business Plan?
You will need a business plan even as a non-profit organization; it is still necessary in order to run a healthy and effective think tank.
The creation of a business plan allows you to establish a blueprint for how your think tank is going to run, what the heart of your mission is, and how you plan to achieve your goals.
This plan helps you connect with your volunteers, co-workers, and even donors as it conveys your mission and vision.
The reasons you should write a business plan when forming a think think are:
You establish your team's goals and milestones on paper.
You understand the beneficiaries, partners, and other stakeholders better.
It evaluates the sustainability of your think tank and documents your fundraising/financing model.
You will need a formal business plan if you plan to seek outside funding for capital expenses; it will also support your application process for grants and sponsorships.
It attracts board members and volunteers.
It positions your organization and sends a clear idea about your message.
It forces you to do research and reveals new opportunities.
It irons out all the problems in your plan and holds yourself accountable.
How to write a business plan?
Before you start
Before you start writing your business plan, you should collect data on your competitors, your audience, and your financials.
While you are collecting this data, you should draft a needs assessment in order to find out if your think tank has a chance of surviving and thriving.
Ask yourself these big questions:
Are there other think tanks in your country working with a similiar model? Who are your competitors?
Who is your audience? Why would they support you? What demographics make up your audience?
Does your think tank represent and support their desires? What is the goal of your audience?
What do you want their response to be?
Do a SWOT Analysis
Strength - What makes you unique? What good resources do you have? Why is your model good?
Weakness - What are you lacking? What needs improvement?
Opportunities - Where could you reduce expenses or who could you collaborate with?
Threats - How could you fail in achieving your goals? What external threat can cause you to be unsuccessful?
Once you collected the data and did your necessary analysis, you can start putting pen to paper!
What should your business plan entail?
Your business plan should include the information listed below. However, how you are going to format, design it, and include it is up to you and your team.
The executive summary is an overview of your business plan. This is usually written last, but it appears as the first page in your document. In this section, you would sell your think tank and your ideas. Here you should clearly and concisely illustrate your organization.
It should entail your think tank's mission and vision, your value proposition(including your market analysis), and how you will meet your goals. Write your summary in a way that people who don’t have enough time to read your whole business plan, will still generally know what it compromises of and have all the necessary information.
Tip: Make sure to personalize your executive summary to your audience; i.e. it should differ if your goal is to win a grant or hire a board member.
Vision & Mission
Writing out your think tank's vision and mission will help you define it and it will help your members and staff identify with the mission. All the next and daily activities with the think tank can be aligned with your mission. You do not necessarily need to include this as a whole section in your business plan, yet it should be clear in your summary and you can also include it in your value proposition.
In this section, you will include all the pervious information you collected when you completed your needs assessment. Here you will make your case for why your think tank should exist and how it will benefit your society. Show what makes your think tank unique!
Goals, Objectives, & Measures
Clearly define your short-term goals, the ones you wish to achieve in 12 months. Moreover, define your midterm goals, the ones you wish to achieve in 2 to 3 years as well as your long term goals. You do not have to include all your goals in this section, but rather adjust it depending on your audience.
You could write down your objectives and the respective measures in a short and cohesive way, for example in a table:
Diverse and sustainable funding
Sufficient income from numerous sources
Regular publications and events
The core team and your organizational structure is key in writing an inspirational and successful business plan, especially for a non-profit organization. You should clearly describe the structure of your team and who they are. Include your experts, members, board (if applicable) and also provide their backgrounds and expertise (this can be as general or as detailed as you want).
Moreover, explain the various positions of management, your existing sponsors and donors, your key partners, and other important actors. As a conclusion, draw an organizational chart demonstrating the flow of your various actors for a clear visual of how your think tank is structured.
Programs, Services & Products
This segment should provide detailed information on what you have to offer and what you actually do. It should answer these questions:
What products or services do you produce and offer?
What programs do you have?
How does the community benefit from your think tank?
What need does your organisation meet and how is your model meeting that need?
You should also include program details with their functions and beneficiaries.
However, do not use difficult technical jargon, as many people are not familiar with what a grassroots think tank does. SO, try to present some clear examples, such as photographs, brochures, and other promotional materials that are helpful.
This section will explain how you will achieve your goals, as was mentioned earlier. You include your short-term processes and your daily/ weekly/ monthly tasks you perform in order to meet your needs as well as your long-term processes, which indicates how you are going to reach your growth and impact goals.
As a think tank, you want to create social and political interaction, thus change. Therefore, your operational and impact plan needs to be accurate on how it will achieve that change. It should include details on what difference you’re seeking to make, how you’re going to make it, and if you’re going to measure it.
This section defines the real bottom line of your organization, as it is for unlocking support. Donors want to know for whom, in what way, and exactly how you are gonna achieve an impact.
Marketing Analysis & Strategy
You should complete a market analysis before you start writing your business plan, in order to find your niche in the market. You already introduced your market analysis in the executive summary, but this subsection should elaborately explain your analysis of what the issues are that caused you to establish a think tank. Analyze those issues thoroughly, so you can present your discovery on how many people are affected by the issue, who they are, and how you are going to reach and affect them.
An effective marketing plan is significant for a think tank to reach their goals and target audience.
If you are an established think tank, iterate every current marketing activity, including every outreach activity, campaign, and initiative. Moreover, be precise about the outcome, activity, and cost.
If you are just starting to establish your think tank, you need to outline your projections with your market analysis.
It will most probably be your longest section as it explains in details how you aspire to implement your business plan.
Explain your current market. This entails your audience, donors, beneficiaries, competitors, and potential partners.
Incorporate the market analysis you previously did.
Draft your plan for securing beneficiaries.
Describe your marketing activities, focusing on particular outcomes.
A financial plan is the key part of your business plan, even as a non-profit think tank. It is important to know and share your financial details, especially in an environment, where the need for transparency on where donations and funds go, is crucial. So, you need to clarify what assets you already have and how you plan to secure more funds as well as what your on-going expenses and overhead costs are.
Your financial plan should entail:
An outline of your think tanks current and projected financial status.
An income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement, and financial estimates (if applicable).
A list of any grants and donations you have received, significant contributions, and any other financial support.
Your fundraising plan.
The gaps in your funding, and how you will manage them.
A budget plan, incl. your start up costs (if applicable).
However, if your think tank is already running, use your established accounting records to finalize this section of the business plan.
This section concludes your business plan. It contains additional information that would support your business plan, but does not fit into your document i.e. it makes it too long or confusing. For example, any necessary charts or graphs, your financial projections, an annual report (if applicable) and any other supportive documents.
Tips - Do's and Don'ts
Write in clear, simple and coherent language
Make the plan too long
Get straight to the point, while using supportive facts
Use too much technical jargon
Include supportive graphs and descriptions
Overload the document with text
Include an executive summary
Rush the process of writing the plan or prolong it
Present an adequate financial plan
Rave about your cause and mission with no clear explanation of how you will help the cause and achieve your mission with your work
Customize your plan according to your audience
Design & Format every page differently
Show authenticity and enthusiasm
It is beneficial to note that your business plan is now not set in stone; it can and should evolve and change in time as your organization will change and grow. Your values, mission, and vision will probably stay the same; yet the other components need to be revised, altered, and adjusted from time to time. Moreover, remember you should adjust your business plan according to your audience for the best results.
Templates & Examples
Example on your business plan can look like
Free Templates for NGO's
Bplans: Business Planning Resources and Free Business Plan Samples