This blog was originally posted via InspireDenver, a publication of the Young Nonprofit Professional Network – Denver.

It can be equally difficult to define the concept of “strategy” as it is to articulate it for your organization. Strategy, by nature, is abstract, complex and evolving. We recognize the term from all sorts of venues – chessboards, the football locker room, and battlefields. In the nonprofit sector, it often shows up in the board room, disguised as a SWOT analysis and bogged down with excessive planning.

Maybe that’s why so many strategic plans are doomed to a life of dust collection.

An effective nonprofit strategy specifies a long-term objective and focused direction that leverages an organization’s internal situation and accounts for the dynamic, competitive external context. There are many schools of thoughtresources, and approaches to creating your organizational strategy. But the end result is your organization’s magic eight ball.

Well, it’s a well-informed, non-random magic eight ball.

In the other words, strategy provides the credibility and direction to say “yes” or “no.” Imagine a situation that requires an important decision or action. Should we apply for this competitive Federal grant? Should we focus more on advocacy? Is our current facility and database sufficient? Can we grow our volunteer program? With a strong strategy, you now have a rubric by which to answer those questions.

A well-informed strategy will indicate where the outlook is good and if the signs point to yes, as well as what to do if the sources say no. Having a clear focus and goals will help the Board say, “It is decidedly so,” or “Don’t count on it” with more confidence and consensus than ever before. There will be times when the reply is hazy and you need to ask later, which is why strategies are meant to be flexible and adaptable (but that’s another blog post).

As a strategic consultant at Corona Insights, I’ve witnessed the power of strong organizational strategies.  And it’s always nice to see clients avoid the dreaded “better not tell you now.”