Non-profit groups must project a passionate mission


July 13, 1992|By LESTER A. PICKER

A recent article in the New York Times touted the fact that of the 11,000 employees of Microsoft Corp., more than 2,200 are millionaires. Surprising? Not really.

Anyone who uses a computer knows that Microsoft is the premier player in the software industry.

The company's mission is unabashedly to be the industry leader in all major software categories. Marketing programs are aggressive. The company offers excellent service and always pushes the competition.

But that's not all that makes Microsoft an industry leader. Read between the lines of any major article on Microsoft's phenomenal success and you find the real secret to Microsoft's winning ways. The company has a vision.

From Chairman Bill Gates and his top people to the programmers writing code, their vision is to change the world through technology. They see a day when the world is instantaneously linked in a vast computer network. Where data is exchanged easily. Where technology is affordable by everyone.

What does this have to do with Microsoft's success? Visions sell. Visionaries sell. Passion for one's work is contagious. When you know where you are headed, interim steps are easier. Barriers become opportunities for innovation.

Microsoft's success is in its people.

And they know how to recruit people who share and can work toward a common vision.

Non-profit organizations are not good at sharing their visions. In fact, most non-profits have not clearly thought through what their visions of the future are.

Nearly every non-profit today has a mission statement. Too often it is buried in a file, or appears in the annual report year after year, unchanged. The mission might be to provide services to a needy population, or to offer a repertoire of classical and contemporary music played by an orchestra of excellent musicians.

But mission statements are not enough. Board members also must clearly state a vision for the future. How will the world be different once the agency accomplishes its mission? How will the client be different? How will society benefit?

Without a statement of vision, a non-profit is like a bank that tells us to invest our money for a year, but offers no assurance of what we will end up with. The mission statement is like a train, the vehicle that moves the organization forward.

But where is the train headed? The ultimate destination is the organizational vision.

A vision statement helps donors understand what their money will accomplish. If a donor buys into the vision, he or she will be more involved and committed.

Having a vision also helps employees understand what the results of their efforts will be.

How does an organization craft a statement of vision? First, the board of directors must develop or update its mission statement.

Next, the board and executive staff need to ask what the world would be like after the organization accomplishes its mission. Herein lies the biggest stumbling block.

Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.

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