By Molly Penn
Imagine coming to work every day full of purpose and conviction. Now imagine your board and staff had that same clarity and belief. Imagine that in moments of conflict or indecision, you could stop and say, “what would best serve our core purpose here?”
The role of a vision statement is to serve as your true north, the motivation for working in the social sector, the difference you are in business to make. Here are the definitions of a vision statement vs. a mission statement to help situate you:
Vision Statement: Describes why your organization exists – the purpose that drives you. It is aspirational and motivational – designed to get others to join you in this purpose.
Mission Statement: Describes what you do to achieve your stated vision. It is practical and specific – designed to help you vet opportunities and clarify your day-to-day work.
Here are some key questions to ask yourself when framing or refining your vision:
WHOM DO YOU EXIST TO SERVE?
Who is served by your programs? What is the most compelling way to describe them? What do they feel? What are they searching for? What do they struggle with?
What are their needs? Which of those is most compelling in terms of your work?
How do you want them to be different or better off as a result of your work?
How will they think, act, or feel differently as a result of your work?
HOW WILL THE WORLD BE CHANGED IF YOU ARE SUCCESSFUL?
What is your “world?” How do you define the portion of the world you seek to influence?
What do you believe about why that world needs to change?
What is the ideal state – once that change has taken hold, what will you see?
Traits of Effective Vision Statements
A clear and compelling vision statement tells people inside the organization what you aspire to achieve – why you are there – what is the good you seek to create in the world. It also tells those you want to convince to join you – funders, partners, clients/audiences – why what you are doing is important.
The strongest vision statements put emotions and those you serve (people, audiences, animals or communities) first and last. They describe who will be different as a result of your work and how they will be different, act different, think different or feel different.
The most effective visions capture why the world needs your organization by helping people envision a compelling future the benefits them as members of society.The best visions connect the individual, the community and the world – thereby illustrating how changing those you serve helps to create a better world for all of us.
Examples of Effective Vision Statements
“We envision a vibrant world in which people of all races create, share and enjoy
resources and relationships equitably, unleashing individual potential,
collective responsibility and global prosperity.”
This statement does a good job of conveying the difference they seek to make (a vibrant world), who will be different (people of all races) how they will be different (share and enjoy resources and relationships equitably), and why this work is important for everyone (unleashing individual potential, collective responsibility and global prosperity).
National Public Radio
“We strive to create a more informed public – one challenged and invigorated by a deeper
understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.”
This statement conveys the difference they seek to make (deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures), for whom (a more informed public) and how they will be different (challenged and invigorated).
Wildlife Conservation Society
“We envision a world where wildlife thrives in healthy land and seas, valued by societies that
embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth.”
This statement conveys the difference right up front (a world where wildlife thrives in healthy land and seas), for whom (wildlife and societies), and how they will be different (embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth).
Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the
color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
While Dr. King did not set out to write a vision statement, the reason this statement is so compelling is that it meets all the elements of a vision statement. It states the difference he seeks (my children will not be judged by the color of their skin), for whom (his children, but metaphorically, all of our children) and what it will look like when we, as a nation, are successful (we will be judged by the content of our characters).
PENN Creative Strategy envisions a country in which nonprofits are sufficiently resourced, vibrant and impactful that they can solve our most enduring challenges, showing us the importance of connectedness, lifting up our neighbors and communities equitably to make the world better.
We Can Help
We would love to work with you to guide your creation of a compelling and clear vision of change that inspires your board, staff, investors and partners to help you get there. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about how we might help.
Molly Penn is the President of PENN Creative Strategy, a consulting firm that partners with foundation and nonprofit leaders to build a thriving, just and relevant cultural & social sector.