The Nonprofit Quarterly is dedicated to circulating ideas within the nonprofit sector, to testing assumptions and to moving conversations forward that might not otherwise progress. Paul Brest, the President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, has taken the opportunity to throw out this salvo for response from nonprofits. He has, in his last paragraph, invited feedback; are his assumptions on the mark? You can reply to [email protected] and we will pass your comments along with or without attribution.

Sally is the CEO of a nonprofit organization. She devotes her weekends to a major home improvement project–adding a sun porch to her house. Before she started the project, she made a sketch of the finished structure, drafted a set of plans, outlined the stages of construction — from laying the foundation to putting up the frame and roof — and drew up a list of the resources necessary to undertake the project.

On Monday, when Sally returns to the office, the chances are slim that she will find an equivalent plan in her desk drawer to guide the organization’s work. Of course, she may have a plan in her head. But if Sally is like most of us, she can’t be sure how thorough or robust the plan is, or whether important pieces are missing, until she has committed it to paper, describing each step necessary to achieve the intended outcome.

Although most nonprofit organizations have a mission statement and some have a general description of their strategy, relatively few have a written plan implementing the organization’s mission and strategy. At the Hewlett Foundation, we have found it striking how often a CEO who believes that he or she has such a plan firmly in mind is unable to articulate it t