Stop Sign: Defining Your Organization’s Vision in Terms of Your Organization

If this is the sector that was supposed to change the world, why has the world not changed? You may not like the answers we have found to that question. Because it is not the failure to follow best practices that are standing in the way of that change – sometimes it is the “best practice” itself!

So we thought we would share some of the stumbling blocks we have found – Stop Signs along the road to creating an amazing future for our communities and our world. (To see other Stop Signs in this series, just click here.)

This week’s Stop Sign has been a pet peeve of mine for years!

STOP SIGN: Defining Your Organization’s Vision in Terms of Your Organization
A recent conference touted itself as the cutting edge in education for the charitable sector. And here is what I heard a presenter say (She even had a slide that said it, to reinforce her definition):

A Vision Statement is a picture of the future you want for your organization.

I could not believe what I was hearing. In the 21st century, at a conference attended by people from around the world, this drivel was still being taught!

How can we create significant improvement in our communities if our vision is not about our communities?

In a for-profit company, the vision statement defined by the conference presenter makes sense. Self-perpetuation is what such a company is meant to do – to keep creating profits, long into the future, for those who own that company.

But when the purpose of an organization is community benefit, shouldn’t its vision be for that community’s future, rather than its own?

I couldn’t make this up: We have seen a crisis nursery whose vision was to be the best crisis nursery in the state. How about instead a statement that says, “Our vision is a community that doesn’t need a crisis nursery!”

Another one we couldn’t make up is this one: A vision statement that took up an entire page, envisioning the future of a human service organization in minute detail. A full paragraph described what the facility would look like. Another full paragraph described what the programs would be like, and yet another paragraph detailed how the organization would be financially sound. In this entire single-spaced, jam-packed page, the word “client” appeared once, and the word “community” appeared not at all.

We cannot create an amazing future for our communities if that is not the vision we are reaching to attain. A focus on organizational excellence, without that visionary context of community excellence, is yet another Stop Sign on the road to creating the future of our world.

At the Institute, our vision is for a healthy, compassionate, vibrant world. So tell us – what’s your vision? It’s easy – just fill in the blank: Our vision is a community that _______________. Or if your work is global in nature: Our vision is a world that _____________________.

Tell us your dreams! What will the world look like if your work is 100% successful?

4 Responses to Stop Sign: Defining Your Organization’s Vision in Terms of Your Organization

  1. As co-founder and executive director of a non-profit I know first hand how difficult it can be to create a vision statement, tag line, and mission statement. There is just so much you want to say in a matter of a few sentences or words. And it has to be extraordinarily creative and inspiring, right?! It has to be unique and captivating too, right?!
    My organization focuses on giving aid to Bulgarian orphans, yet we do it in so many ways that it was hard for us to narrow things down to one sentence and create an official “statmenet.” The one we came up with was not necessarily creative, but it was accurate.

    By the way, my personal vision satement as a mother of five and executive director of a non-profit is: “Mothers are divine tools in God’s hands, with the power to change the small corners of the world, starting in their own home.”

  2. I’ve noticed that some nonprofits are writing two vision statements: an “external vision” is their picture of the world as they want it to be while an “internal vision” is their idea of what they want their organization to look like.
    Personally, I am okay with this approach as long as the question we ask about the internal vision is “What will our organization have to look like in order to achieve our “external” vision. Indeed, the question is another way of getting to the issue of “mission” (i.e. what will we have to DO to achieve our vision).

  3. Deborah:
    Thanks for your note – and sorry, it got lost in my still-learning about blogging! Yes, sometimes it is hard to define things in simple language, but you will find it is critical to be able to talk about your work to others. You will also find it gets easier!

    Your thoughts about being a mom, though, make it easy to see how you can indeed create a vision statement for your organization. As a mom, we want to see our kids grow to become strong, happy, healthy adults – that is our vision for them. Our vision for our kids isn’t for us as their parents, but for them as individuals, and the part they might play in the world. It really is the perfect analogy – thanks for sharing it!

  4. Nathan:
    Yes! As long as we are seeing organizations as the means to the end – not the end themselves, then yes, having that internal statement is fine, and yes, it is the route to the mission. We get so used to thinking about either/or – either the vision is for the world or for the organization. But of course you are correct, that we have a vision for all sorts of things.

    As I consider your note, I’m realizing that this is the approach we have used in our planning – starting with the community, working back to the organization, then drilling down function by function. What is our vision for our staff? What is our vision for our facilities? What do all these things need to be for us to accomplish what we need to accomplish? I guess I just hadn’t thought of it as an “internal vision” – but we do get so stuck on semantics sometimes, now don’t we!?

    As I am deep in the middle of writing “The Book,” this is a helpful distinction for me. As always, your wisdom is so welcome!!