The Vision Statement

This week and next we are focusing on the necessity and value of having well-articulated organizational vision and mission statements. The combination of these two essential elements provides the framework in which an organization functions by serving as guideposts for designing and implementing programs, achieving established goals and objectives, and maintaining focus as the organization moves forward.

The inspirational foundation of a nonprofit organization rests on its vision. Most of the nation’s 1.4 million nonprofit organizations grew from the vision of a single person or a small group of like-minded individuals who wanted to create a better world, develop stronger communities, address an environmental concern, improve access to healthcare, introduce educational initiative, etc. For example, when a repeat drunk driver killed one woman’s daughter, her anger and passion for addressing issues of drunk driving and repeat offenders led to the formation of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) The over-riding broad vision of M.A.D.D. is to address issues of drunk driving in America. M.A.D.D.’s mission statement articulates how the organization will achieve the vision.

While the two are interconnected, the vision is truly the starting point and is set by the organization’s founders who come together to improve conditions somewhere in the greater community. The challenge is to turn the vision into a collective objective in order to get community buy-in, secure financial and volunteer support, and to establish credibility so that you can create a mission statement which will provide an operational structure for the organization to grow. (In a later issue we will discuss setting goals and objectives from the mission statement)

Whether you are just starting an organization or are joining an established one, there are several things to keep in mind in terms of visioning:

  • Involve your leadership team (which may include staff and selected volunteers) in the following exercise to refine and articulate your vision: Picture your organization five years in the future. You have all just arrived at work and are getting ready to start the day. The major newspaper in your area has done a feature story on your organization and when the paper arrives at your door you discover that the story is on the front page. What does the headline read? Think in terms of actual headlines and try to come up with a quick, one or two line broad vision (headline) that reflects the organization’s values.
  • Ownership of the vision must be shared with the leadership (executive staff and board) and sold to the support staff, volunteers and community.
  • The vision is like the broad strokes of a painting or the foundation of a house. To take the house analogy further, picture the actual structure of the house as being your programs, goals and objectives, operations etc., the solid concrete sub-floor as your mission statement and the natural landscape, dirt and rubble upon which the house is built as your underlying vision.
  • Assuming you are not one of the original founders, you should seek out and talk to the founders, if possible in order to gain historical perspective on the origins of your organization. Review the early history, any available documents, board minutes, marketing materials etc. Has the vision remained the same or has it evolved over time?
  • Staying connected to the vision is essential in order to stay grounded and maintain the organizational integrity, credibility and values from which the organization grew.

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