There’s a popular show on a cable television network named, How It’s Made. You’ve probably seen it, or at least heard about it. The producers of the show feature both some of the most commonplace and not-so-common products we use in our everyday lives and show how they’re made. If you’ve ever wanted to see how a car, guitar, house, computer, cell phone, tire, faucet, etc. is made, it’s most likely to be featured on this show.

Like the show, nonprofits of all types are fairly quick to get to the “how” part of what they do. How they bring members together, how they provide the resources they provide, how they help meet needs and provide value – in other words, organizations are quick to get to the tactics but sometimes slower on the upbeat to address the strategy that leads to the tactics.

Let’s try to put it into perspective using an example we’ve all heard before: building a house without any plans. Really, what builder jumps right in and crafts together a house without a lot of listening and asking the prospective homeowners about needs? The homebuilder will want to know about family and size, special interests or needs, budget, design and décor tastes, among many other things. All these insights are critical for the builder to build just the right house.

Before the builder works on the “how” (tactics), it must first focus on the “what and why” (strategy). Strategy comes before tactics so the longer-term tactics can be as effective as possible for the longest period of time.

Nonprofits are often most interested (or forced) to start with tactics rather than strategy. Maybe you, or someone in your organization, has said, “We need a new brochure about our services” or “Let’s start a PR campaign to make more prospects aware of what we do” or “Let’s raise more money.” Nonprofits and their staffs and boards know how to do any one of these things quickly. But do they know what information would make a brochure have a greater impact and produce the kind of outcome desired from it? Do members of the team know what key facts or messages are the most important to share with any or all audiences? Has anyone on the team asked the organization’s most important constituents why they even care, or why they care about what they care about?

Nonprofits that ask and listen for the “what and why” first will always be able to tell a better “how” story to their core audiences.