You’ve seen it here before. Fail to plan. Plan to fail. These words of Benjamin Franklin apply today.

A very (and maybe the most) important plan for a nonprofit is the Strategic Plan. Developed and used effectively, a strong Strategic Plan can guide an organization to achieve at higher and higher levels and prepare a nonprofit to weather future challenges.

In my early experiences with strategic planning, we focused more on the process and product and less on the usefulness of the Plan. We did surveys, looked at data, held focus groups and, ultimately, produced a beautiful looking document that we were all very proud of. And we put it on a shelf…and, usually, it stayed there untouched until three or four years later when the topic of a new Strategic Plan arose.

Today, we must use Strategic Plans differently. We must make and use them as the strategic guide we need to operate efficiently and effectively in today’s world.

Your Plan should be developed like a business plan, moving away from a three- or five-year timeframe to a Plan with robust goals, clear metrics and timelines, strategic operational frameworks, combined with financial forecasts.

A truly Strategic Plan provides for nonprofit operations within an ever-changing environment. No longer do things stay the same for long periods of time. Information comes to us in huge and immediate waves, making us more aware of issues affecting the work of our organization.

Your Plan should stimulate a strategic thinking process that leads to strategic action. This process should explore future challenges and how your organization may or may not be equipped to face those challenges.