Vision and Mission

by Floyd Rumohr

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Although this quote is out of context from Proverbs 29:18 in The Bible, I can think of no stronger statement about it. Your organization’s “people” probably won’t literally perish — certainly I hope not! — but the lesser evils of confusion, lack of enthusiasm, and throwing lots of programmatic spaghetti against the wall hoping something sticks could result from a vision obscured.

Vision is a simple description of what the world will look like when the mission of the organization is accomplished. Too many confused faces staring back at you when you talk about the big idea of your nonprofit? That’s probably because the audacity of the organization’s vision has not been elegantly distilled into everyday words that mere mortals and not just your gifted founder can understand.

Thinking of it as a snapshot or picture will help clear up the clouds of confusion. Imagine your organization’s mission accomplished. What does your world look like? Can it be tweeted? If so, you’re on the right track. Some examples include:

  • No child will go hungry in the City of New York.
  • AIDS will be curable by 2050.
  • The Company will produce world-class, highly imaginative Shakespeare productions for the southwest region of the United States.

While the vision describes the biggest and boldest of organizational goals (sometimes called “BHAGs:” Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goals), the mission is the daily business of the organization and what it aims to do en route to the broader vision. If the vision is the most audacious and energizing of goals, then the mission describes the most imminent and measurable of goals. Example mission companions to the above vision statements could be:

  • Provide two nutritious meals each day for children in New York City living at 120% of the federal poverty level and below.
  • Support AIDS research and advocacy through direct grant making and reduce the number of new cases around the world through education and outreach.
  • Re-imagine Shakespeare for the southwest region of the United States to reflect the most pressing sociopolitical issues of our time.

Your organization’s evaluation and assessment practices, if you have them, should aim to gather data that support the stated goals in your mission statement. If, for example, your mission is to produce world-class Shakespeare productions, then capturing references from published sources that make that claim will build mission credibility. Your development director will thank you.

Some missions provide a boundary function, which delineates by a particular group, geographical scope, or other distinguishing feature but they don’t have to. Serving “students in grades three through six” in “New York City” are examples for a literacy program. Be sure to avoid technical lingo that people outside of a particular field are not likely to understand.

Next up: core values.

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