Every voluntary and community organisation can benefit from a written business plan which sets out the direction and planned performance of an organisation.

Business plans are developed within the wider context provided by the strategic plan. It usually details the steps required to achieve the organisation's mission or strategy.

Business plans tend to adopt much shorter timeframes than strategic plans, typically medium-term covering 1-3 years. It is the stage in the planning process where an organisation starts to turn options and choices about the future into reality, creating a robust framework from which the organisation will deliver its work.

One way of achieving this is to develop some realistic objectives and targets, capture the strategy in some kind of written document and think about the resources required to deliver the plan. Plans should not be lengthy or complicated but succinct and easy to understand. They should always contain sufficient information proportionate to what is required, for example a proposal to potential funder.

The skills and tools needed to develop a business plan are very similar to that required to create a strategic plan. Check out our section on  strategic planning to find out more.

What are business plans for?

Business plans are far more than written documents, which, in certain situations, can support a grant application to a potential funder. Good quality business plans can:

  • Help organisations to define their objectives and targets in detail
  • Encourage them to gather fresh knowledge about their service users
  • Provide a detailed blueprint for developing projects and activities, and the means to monitor progress
  • Provide valuable written information about your work and objectives for new staff, volunteers and trustees, and for external partners
  • Help to promote your activities with certain groups in the community - e.g. local councillors and individual local authorities, assembly members and local business people

Business plan format

There is no ideal format for a business plan for a voluntary or community organisation. The following outline plan can be tailored to suit its purpose. In this instance the outline plan is for raising funds and has a strong emphasis on finance and cash flow. You may wish to leave out certain sections that are not applicable to your organisation.

Suggested headings for a business plan submitted to a potential funder:

  • Background to organisation
  • An overview of the proposed scheme or project
  • Why the scheme is needed
  • Why your organisation?
  • Project aims and description
  • Level of funding and resources required
  • Outcomes
  • Staffing and management structure
  • Budget
  • Timescales
  • Monitoring and evaluation

Outline for a business plan


Presentation of business plan

The general rules of presenting a business plan are:

  • A business plan should be easy and interesting to read, so avoid excessive detail or length
  • Ensure the plan meets the needs of its users and key stakeholders
  • One person should write the plan to ensure consistency of style
  • Although the executive summary is at the beginning of the plan, it should be written last
  • Do not leave any apparent questions unanswered or state any unsupported conclusions