On a Clear Day, Can You See Your Vision?

Some organizations spend months, years even, developing their vision, only to have it end up rambling on for pages.

Doing it right is not that hard, and it’s important…very important.

Every nonprofit began when some people recognized a problem. “Someone really outta’ wanna’ do something about [the problem.].” These people are called whiners.

Then a smaller group, sometimes just one person,  conceived of a world where [the problem] is solved. “I have a dream…that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” These people are called visionaries.

Then a very small group takes ownership of the problem/vision and commits to bringing about the vision. They have a mission. They are called founders.

So What?

Getting this right is crucial. The problem-vision-mission statement is why the organization exists. It is why people serve on your board. It is why donors donate. It is why you get tax relief. The world will be better off as you perform your mission and achieve your vision.

What Does a Clear Vision Look Like?

It is a short statement of the status of the problem at some time in the future, stated in the present tense. “We envision a world where there is no racism.”

The problem statement is the key. The vision is only that the problem is fixed.

If you want society to support your cause, you must state the public vision, the benefit to society at large.

Some try to state the vision in terms of the future status of the organization, such as, “We are a large and vibrant organization with influence throughout the city.” That vision will get you nowhere. “We have a city where no one is homeless and everyone is a productive member of society.” That is much better.

Public visions are better than private visions, which focus on the benefits to the clients. “The homeless all have jobs.”

Visions should not include strategies, values, or goals.

Let me repeat that: Visions should not include strategies, values, or goals.

Your vision is the reason you exist. It should not change over the life of the organization unless you accomplish your vision (as did the March of Dimes.) Strategies, however, are flexible. External factors can change that force changes in strategy or relative emphasis. Sometimes strategies fail, but the problem-vision-mission still exists, so you must develop and execute new strategies. Vision is fixed, but strategies are not.

Likewise, values may change. We don’t like to think about that, but it does happen. Vision is fixed, but values are not.

Goals are even worse. “We will reach 22,000 new clients by 2020.” What happens if you don’t reach your goal? Do you just fold up shop and slither home? The problem-vision-mission still exists. You may need new strategies or re-energized efforts, but you just keep going.

Watch out for words like by…, via…, and through… These are fog signals.

How should I set the vision?

First contact your local United Way or Community Foundation and ask for a list of recommended facilitators. The facilitators can lead you through the process.

The process will involve gathering key visionaries, founders, donors, and other stakeholders. Then holding a very structured brainstorming session (which does not look like the traditional brainstorm) and having the group determine affiliations and connections. It is quite a system and feeds directly into the next steps of strategic planning.

Remember: The vision is “the problem is fixed” and the mission is “we will achieve the vision.”