Most nonprofits are initially built around someone’s vision to accomplish something that seems impossible. When people start organizations, when they pioneer down the path of this new venture, there are no restrictions in their mind. There’s simply a burning desire in their heart that says we’re going to make this big difference in the world, and we don’t know how we’re going to do all of it, but we’re going for it. But usually something happens along the way: the enthusiasm, the passion, and the excitement that were part of that original vision lose their magic. Sometimes an organization has been around for several years, they’ve made a little dent in what they’re trying to change, but they realize it’s not as easy as they thought it would be. Or it costs more than they thought. Or it takes more people than they had available. Or there are political, economic, or even cultural barriers they’re trying to overcome. So the big, impossible, almost undefinable dream now becomes something that needs to be defined. Boards become part of the equation. Donors are giving money, but only under certain stipulations. So the vision becomes smaller, and the mission becomes compromised. Something has to change to reignite your organization’s original vision.
This is pretty common. A lot of organizations that come to Keenly for help are in this exact place. There’s huge heart behind the ministry, but now burnout, fatigue, and compromise have come into the picture.
I was recently in a conversation about this with an organization who had an initial vision to change their local community in a very dramatic way for the good. They wanted to see marriages restored, parents become better parents, the local churches growing, and more people genuinely caring for their neighbors. But since this original vision was cast, the community had grown to about 40,000 people, which became overwhelming for this smaller organization. The initial vision evolved into “something that we’ll aspire to someday.” Rather than envisioning the entire community changed, it became about just getting through the next activity or event. Rather than having big dreams for three, five, ten years down the road, it became about just getting through the next week. Somehow in all of that, the big vision didn’t matter as much anymore.
Maybe this is happening to your organization. Maybe you’re in a place where you started out with this huge dream, but over time, that dream got smaller, more practical, and easier to define. What I want to communicate to you is that nothing great has ever happened by trying to fit a dream into a box. Great things always come by pushing for the impossible, by pushing for what could be.
So how do you cultivate this type of thinking in an organization that’s been around for a while? You had it at the beginning but you’ve lost it, or it just doesn’t matter to as many people as it used to. How do you bring back the enthusiasm? It all comes down to vision. And don’t mistake just having a vision statement as having vision. Most vision statements are very sterile in nature. There’s nothing in them that inspires people. For vision to make a difference, it has to inspire people to believe that they can be part of this change, too.
Here are three things that you can try if you need help to reignite your organization’s original vision:
1. Engage in a vision exercise with your team.
We use this exercise a lot with our clients. What we tell them to do is envision two people having an actual conversation about your organization several years down the road. Come up with your own scenario and characters, and give them actual names. They could be at a coffee shop or on a golf course, whatever you come up with. Neither one of these people participate in your organization. They simply know about it.The exercise is for you to be a fly on the wall and capture that conversation. What would you want said? Actually dialogue it out. This person said “this” and then this person said “this.” Have these characters paint a picture of what they believe your organization is 5 or 10 years from now, and just fill in the blanks with the conversation. That’s the kind of thing that will force you and your team to think about the “what could be” and the “what if.” Or the “wouldn’t it be cool if…?” If you get stuck, let us know, and we can help walk you through this exercise.
2. Be intentional in how you talk about vision among your organization.
Shared vision is similar to a set of shared values. If one of the values of an organization is something like compassion, what that means is that everyone should be demonstrating compassion inside and outside of the organization. It’s part of the organization’s DNA, and it’s something everyone should be living by. But how will the people in the organization really own that if it’s not talked about? If everyone understands that compassion is a core value for the entire organization through frequent discussion about it, then it becomes something that truly embodies the organization. When people see it in one another, they openly celebrate it, and motivate others to live by it as well.The same thing goes for vision. The way you communicate about your vision among your organization will affect how you accomplish it. Bring your team together and dialogue often about your vision, about the “what could be.” If your organization is trying to end a water crisis, that means that you talk about ending the water crisis. It means you end up having conversations about what things you could do once you end the water crisis. If your organization is working around homelessness, you’re talking about ending homelessness in your region or city or state. You’re envisioning something amazing and remarkable. And you need to talk about it in those terms.
3. Involve your stakeholders in the vision.
You have more stakeholders involved in your organization than just your immediate team. A stakeholder is anyone who truly believes in what you’re trying to accomplish. It could be a volunteer, a donor, a board member. It could be a very close family friend. Engage your stakeholders and ask questions like “who are we?” and “what are we trying to do?” and “why do we do what we do?” Allow them to speak into the vision and into the “what could be.” Not only will these kinds of conversations help bring about vision, they may also bring about next steps for you. They’ll help fuel the passion that might be lost in some of the compromises that have been made over the years. The spark of what could be can now be shared with the next person. The more people rallying around the vision, the better.
We talk a lot about vision with our clients at Keenly. Being inspired around something and being able to keep that sense of inspiration is absolutely critical in your organization. If you’re feeling like you don’t know how to get past that barrier right now, give us a call. We’d love to help walk you through this.
Not sure what to do next?
No problem. Here are a few things to try.