A vision statement is a crucial tool for any non-profit organization. One step beyond the mission statement, a well-crafted statement of vision tells volunteers and donors where the organization is headed.
Using a railroading analogy, the mission is the vehicle to get from point A to point B -- the train, in other words. The vision is the destination. It shows the community how it will benefit from the organization achieving its mission. And it showcases how the world will be a better place for the work of the institution.
More than anything else, the vision statement is a rare opportunity for the board members to speak enthusiastically about the work they hold dear. It should reflect a passion and excitement that is contagious. After all, if the directors can't speak in such terms about the organization and cause with which they are so intimately involved, who will?
But how does an organization craft a statement of vision? Oddly, a vision statement is often difficult for a conservative board to construct. Too often, board members become mired in financial statements, personnel problems and raising enough funds to keep the organization solvent. Passion about what the organization actually does is far from the front burner.
To craft a vision statement, a board must first develop or update its mission statement, a process which should be done as a matter of course every few years anyway. All else within an organization flows from the mission statement, including program development, fund-raising and planning.
Next, time needs to be set aside for the board and executive staff to ask what the world would be like once the organization accomplished its mission.
Here lies the biggest stumbling block. Non-profit employees and directors are so accustomed to plodding along just getting their job done, they can't allow themselves the luxury of soaring -- of imagining a future where their work is done. Yet isn't that what many non-profits should aspire to?
To help the process along, people crafting a vision statement need to consider how their clients will be better off if the mission were ever achieved. How would the community benefit? How would society benefit?
To be effective, the vision statement should be clearly written in an active voice, concise and, above all else, passionate. The statement offers a way to create a bond between the organization's mission and those who will choose to support it.
I like to help board members create their statement of vision by having each person answer these questions alone. By reflecting on those organizational values which are most meaningful to the individual board member, he or she gets a chance to step back from the more mundane aspects of running a non-profit.
Once individuals answer the questions, small groups can discuss their shared values and snapshots of the future. This step alone usually generates some exciting discussions. From the small group discussions, the entire board convenes to draft a single statement, representing their collective vision. Unlike most committee processes, crafting a vision statement works best when done by the board as a whole.
The funny thing is, I've never seen directors create a vision statement without leaving the session riding a crest of enthusiasm -- a rebirth of commitment to the organization. In the process, an essential link is created between the organization's mission and its vision of the future.
Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.