Strategic Planning Series Part 3: Mission, Vision, Core Values
This is the third blog post in the Successful Nonprofits’ strategic planning series and focuses on crafting powerful mission statements, vision statements, and core values. While each post is designed to stand on its own, you can read the other posts here:
Strategic Planning Series Part 1: Do you need a plan? Are you ready to plan?
Strategic Planning Series Part 2: The environmental scan
The United States Constitution opens with this mission statement: “To form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” While our forebears were a bit wordy in the 1700’s, the very first sentence is this mission statement for our nation’s democracy. And the first sentence sets out the reasons why the constitution exists.
As a result, this mission statement becomes the measuring stick that determines whether the Constitution achieved its purpose. Based on this evaluation, I think that our founding fathers sorely missed the mark on the entire mission statement when they agreed to the 3/5ths compromise, the 1808 agreement, and only giving voting rights to white men.
What is a mission statement?
In the nonprofit sector, a mission statement is simply a short, memorable phrase describing why an organization exists. As such, the mission statement should inspire action and guide decisions of the staff and the board.
Good mission statements start with one of two types of verbs. For the fellow grammar nerds in cyberland, mission statements most often begin with a present participle (a verb that ends in “ing” – like encouraging, building) or an infinitive (a verb preceded by the word “to”).
The best mission statements are incredibly short, most often just ten words or less. When I facilitate strategic planning, I challenge the work group to develop a proposed mission statement in 10 words or less. At first work group members are skeptical that they can encapsulate a mission in so few words, and this is especially true for organizations with long mission statements that are essentially one or two full paragraphs.
To help the most skeptical people understand the power of a short, memorable mission statement, I will typically share about a dozen short mission statements that inspire action and guide decisions.
Georgia Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Empowering People à Breaking Barriers à Thriving Community (8 words – including symbols)
SOJOURN: Advancing LGBTQ affirmation and empowerment across the South (8 words)
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta: To make kids better today and healthier tomorrow (8 words)
CHRIS Kids: To heal children, strengthen families and build community (8 words).
Georgia Lawyers for the Arts: To further creativity by protecting and advising Georgia’s artists and inventors (11 words)
The Humane Society: Celebrating Animals, Confronting Cruelty. (4 words)
TED: Spreading Ideas. (2 words)
Wounded Warrior Project: To honor and empower wounded warriors. (6 words)
Public Broadcasting System (PBS): To create content that educates, informs and inspires (8 words).
National Wildlife Federation: Inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future. (9 words)
The Task Force: Advance full freedom, justice and equality for LGBTQ people (9 words).
New York Public Library: To inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities. (10 words)
Zebra Coalition: To support and inspire LGBTQ+ youth (6 words)
What is a vision statement?
Now that we’ve fully reviewed the definition and purpose of mission statements, let’s spend some time on vision statements. The vision statement is also a short, memorable phrase but it outlines the desired long-term outcome instead of the reason for existence. Visions statements describe the world / city / region in which the organization has achieved its mission.
A food bank, for example, might have a mission “To end hunger in our community”, while its vision statement might be “A community without hunger”.
I’ve often felt that effective vision statements can almost always start with the same words and the same deep voice as movie trailers: “In a world where no child is hungry”.
When facilitating a strategic planning process, I almost always challenge the work group to propose a vision statement that is also ten words or less. As with the mission statement challenge, I also provide about a dozen examples of short and pithy vision statements,
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta: Best care . . . Healthier kids (4 words)
C4 Atlanta: For Atlanta artists to make a living making art (9 words)
Georgia Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: The Center of a thriving community (6 words)
Georgia Lawyers for the Arts: An environment where all artists and inventors have access to essential legal services (13 words)
Human Rights Campaign: Equality for everyone (3 words)
Innovative Solutions for the Disabled: Healthy, functioning families à Successful children
Oxfam: A just world without poverty (5 words)
Habitat for Humanity: A world where everyone has a decent place to live. (10 words)
SOJOURN: We envision LGBTQ inclusive communities inspired by Jewish and universal value. (11 words)
United Way: Greater Atlanta is a community where all individuals and families thrive. (11 words)
Zebra Coalition: A community where all LGBTQ+ youth feel safe and empowered
What are core values?
Once the work group has proposed new mission and vision statements, it’s time to draft core values for the organization. The core values are typically 4 to 7 value statements that further guide an organization’s planning, decision making, and operations.
The core values are often intensely personal to the organization, and this is a great place to add all the additional words and ideas that wouldn’t fit into the mission and vision statements.
Core value statements can be as simple as a list of single words, like Bright Horizons’ core values of Honesty * Excellence * Accountability * Respect * Teamwork. And they can be a paragraph each. I really appreciate Project Open Hand’s Core values:
We put our mission first.
We honor our staff & volunteers as our most valuable resource.
We pursue innovation.
We embrace diversity.
We act with integrity.
We pledge accountability.
With a complete environmental scan and a proposed mission, vision, and core values, the organization can begin drafting an initial strategy and direction.
But you are also probably thinking: “Wait a minute, Dolph, this seems like a whole lot of work that needs to be done before we begin working on the strategy. Why don’t you share who will be doing all of the work?”
And that would be a completely fair question.
Neither the environmental scan nor creating the mission, vision, and core values should be tasks completed by just one or two people. This critical strategic planning work is best done by a Work Group that includes board, staff, and perhaps a couple of community leaders. In Part 4 of this series, we’ll discuss the role of a work group, the amount of time work group members typically commit to the process, and how to recruit these important leaders.
This post is the second installment in a series about strategic planning. The first post focused on determining whether you need a new strategic plan and if your organization is ready to actually begin the planning process. You can read that post here.
Once you are ready to roll up your sleeves and begin a strategic planning process, it’s a good idea to understand the four distinct: The environmental scan, drafting the initial strategy, board feedback, and finalizing the plan.
These stages are used by almost everyone – from consultants who facilitate strategic plans to boards that choose a boot-strapped, do-it-yourself planning model. While every consultant has their own term for each of these stages, they don’t vary much from planning process to planning process.
This post dives into the first stage of the planning process: The Environmental Scan.
Designing Your Environmental Scan
Strategic planning typically begins with the environmental scan, which some consultants refer to as information gathering or even “unpacking the organization”. The environmental scan reviews your organization from a number of different perspectives and usually involves compiling and analyzing several years of programmatic, financial, and fundraising data to help identify existing trends in each area.
Understanding the data trends is critically important to the planning process. Through this process, some organizations have found that:
Once a general trend is identified, we can determine what additional research is necessary to understand the trend’s underlying causes.
The environmental scan also typically includes gathering feedback from internal and external stakeholders (some consultants refer to stakeholders as constituents). Organizations can collect this information using various tools, including online or paper surveys, phone interviews, in person conversations, and facilitated focus groups. As with all individual data collection efforts, planners typically obtain more information using higher-touch and more time-consuming efforts like phone and in-person interviews.
Identifying Your Stakeholders
When I help organizations conduct an environmental scan, board members and executive directors are often surprised when the stakeholder brainstorming session results in a list of 75 to 100 people. We typically brainstorm 4 to 6 stakeholders representing the following constituencies: clients, staff, former board members, major donors, foundation funders, institutional funders, organizational partners, the civic and government sector, related associations, and of course all current board members.
This is the second part of the post on outsourcing. Part one includes the 4 types of tasks nonprofits outsource and the 5 key benefits of outsourcing them, you can read that post here.
Questions to Ask When Outsourcing
Successfully outsourcing a few core business functions requires that a nonprofit carefully determine its own needs and the contractor’s capacities. You will likely solicit proposals from prospective vendors and conduct a rigorous vetting process.
When you meet with prospective contractors, a few questions to ask in this process include:
Will we pay a flat amount each month or by the hour?
Paying a flat amount each month helps with budgeting and often with cash flow, but it also limits the additional tasks you can ask a contractor to perform without having to renegotiate a contract.
What is the specific scope of services?
A clearly outlined scope of services will eliminate the possibility of many future disagreements. If a prospective contractor says “I will manage all of your grant writing”, ask for clarity on what tasks are involved. Does this include the grant calendar? Attending RFP conferences? Writing the proposal? Assembling the final proposal? Sending the proposal to the funder? Writing thank you letters? Tracking funder deadlines? Writing grant reports? Etc.
Who else have you done this work for?
It’s best to find a consultant or contractor with more than just nonprofit experience but experience within the organization’s field. As part of this question, be certain to obtain and check references.
What relationships will you bring to our organization?
Each contractor is an opportunity to expand your organization’s relationships with funders, vendors, constituents, and even other organizations. Ask who they may know and how you can leverage the relationship.
What happens when you . . .
Take a vacation? Retire? Experience a significant demand for work? Specifically, the nonprofit needs to feel comfortable that they will have continuity and consistency. Often a firm can provide this level of continuity but a sole practitioner with a strong network can provide a similar assurance of continuity.
What steps do you take to meet the legal definition of a 1099 contractor? *
The Federal Department of Labor and many state departments of labor have been cracking down on employers that incorrectly classify individuals as contractors. While this article isn’t designed to offer legal or accounting advice, be certain that the firm or contractor meets the legal definition of a contractor, and ask a pro bono attorney who specializes in employment law to review the contract and verify that it meets the criteria.
For additional guidance, I have attached a template with suggested questions to ask your potential contractor:
About the Author:
Read Dolph Ward Goldenburg's Bio
Elephants In Hiding
Going on Safari in Africa is an amazing experience because you get to see animals outside of a traditional zoo setting. You can see prides of lions enjoying a nap, troops of hippopotamus wallowing in muddy water, and herds of elephants.
On my first safari, I was surprised how often elephants hide. These are big animals – typically weighing over 13,000 pounds and standing over 10 feet tall. They are the “gentle giants of the jungle” with no real predators, but they often prefer the comfort of not being fully visible.
I snapped this one photo of a hidden elephant:
And I thought about the hidden elephants in the organizations I have worked with. Sometimes, the hidden elephant is the staff, board member, or volunteer who does amazing work but never seeks accolades or recognition. They work quietly and relatively obscurely - - - and they are the unsung heroes of the nonprofit sector.
Who are some of the hidden elephants in your organization, and how can you recognize them?
Of course, organizations also have “bad elephants” hiding as well. In order to sustain themselves, elephants eat 2000% of their weight every year (that’s over 120,000 pounds of foliage every year). Consequently, they can easily turn savannas into grasslands, cause erosion, and harm biodiversity.
Most organizations also have these hidden “bad elephants”. People who are often unintentionally but quietly doing a lot of damage. Perhaps the person is passive aggressive, quietly starting fights between others. Or perhaps the person is underperforming. And truly aggressive, anti-social elephants must be removed for the good of the herd and the organization.
When you look closely, do you have any destructive elephants hiding in your organization? What can you do to remove them or eliminate their ability to cause damage?
Do you need a strategic plan? Are you ready to plan?
(Part One of a Series: Everything you wanted to know about strategic planning but were afraid to ask)
As a consultant, I get a lot of questions about strategic planning:
Last month, I answered these questions at a presentation at The Commerce Club in Atlanta. I felt it would be worthwhile to turn this into a series of blog posts. These posts might anger some nonprofit consultants because the isn’t always “go ask a consultant”
What is a strategic plan?
Before we delve into whether your organization needs a strategic plan, it would definitely be helpful to review what a strategic plan actually is. While many professionals refer to a strategic plan as a roadmap, this is only one component of a strategic plan. After all, you can have a roadmap in your car but won’t go anywhere if you don’t have a destination. And it also helps to know how you will get the money to pay for gas, food, and lodging; as well as how many hours you’ll need to drive each day to meet your timeline.
Does your organization need a strategic plan:
Here’s a controversial fact that many consultants might disagree with: not every organization needs a strategic plan.
If your organization is a soup kitchen that has for has fed 250 homeless people every Saturday for the last 30 years, you might not need a strategic plan. This is especially true if your soup kitchen has a stable board with a succession plan, doesn’t plan on any major facility improvements, doesn’t want to expand, has a secure base of volunteers, and isn’t interested in doing any advocacy.
Most organizations that don’t need strategic plan are also likely to have smaller budgets and be less complex.
But does my organization need a new strategic plan?
When trying to determine whether your organization need a new strategic plan, there are several questions the organization should ask itself.
As an example, the last time a funder requested your strategic plan, did you wince and think “I don't really want to show them this plan because we're not really using it anymore.” Additionally, if you don't have a current plan to provide to funders you might need to think about engaging in a strategic planning process.
The age of your most recent strategic plan will also probably dictate whether you can refresh the current plan or need a new one. If it's more than three years old again it might be time to think about planning because most organizations are in a rapidly changing environment.
To help determine whether your organization needs a new strategic plan, I’ve created a dynamic seven-question worksheet so you can see how your organization ranks in this area:
Some other questions from the worksheet include:
Is my organization prepared to begin a strategic planning process?
While an organization might need a new strategic plan, it’s important to know if an organization is prepared to begin a strategic planning process.
As an example, organizations that are facing a crisis tend not to be prepared to engage in strategic planning. This is true whether the crisis is related to finances, human resource, the board or something else. In fact, organizations that attempt to develop a strategic plan while in crisis often just develop a crisis plan. As a result, the strategic plan becomes relatively ineffective when the organization emerges from the crisis.
Additionally, organizations need to carefully consider if they have the resources necessary to undertake strategic planning. This isn’t just the financial resources to hire a consultant or host a board retreat, it’s also the board and staff time necessary to fully engage in planning.
I’ve also developed a worksheet to help determine if your organization is prepared to begin a strategic planning process. You can download the PDF file:
Once you’ve completed this worksheet, you will know whether your organization is prepared to begin strategic planning! Stay tuned next week for part two of this series, when I will fully describe the process that almost every organization or consultant uses for strategic planning.
Focus on Mission by Outsourcing Back-Office Tasks
The nonprofit sector is mission driven, and each nonprofit devotes resources to achieve their unique mission. Whether the mission is to shelter the homeless, deliver meals to the homebound, showcase modern art, or rescue animals, pursuing the mission requires strategic business skills essential to operating the organization.
This is why many executive directors of small- and medium-sized nonprofits spend countless hours entering financial information into accounting software, managing human resources, writing grant proposals, and marketing.
Tasks Suitable to Outsourcing
While for-profit companies have outsourced tasks unrelated to service-delivery for decades, the nonprofit world is just beginning to discover the benefits of outsourcing. In my experience, organizations often successfully outsource in four key areas.
Finance: An accounting or bookkeeping firm performs your core finance office functions, such as entering income and expenses, writing checks, filing financial documents, running reports, closing books at the end of each financial period, and working with the auditor. The Executive Director and Board must still maintain oversight of the process, but a firm provides the professional expertise.
Human Resources: A human resources professional can post job openings, screen candidates, conduct job interviews, ensure government compliance in the onboarding process, conduct annual trainings, review pay scales, manage HR files, and structure the annual review process.
Grant Writing: Grant writing firms typically create an annual grant calendar that details the funding sources, proposed program, and funding deadlines for the next twelve months. They can also write the proposals.
Marketing: Few of us entered the nonprofit sector in hopes of designing beautiful newsletters, creating Facebook campaigns, maintaining a stunning website, or creating the perfect table top display. These are also ripe for outsourcing.
Benefits of Outsourcing
Small and medium size organizations gain many benefits from outsourcing core business functions, including (a) mission; (b) scalability; (c) access to a higher level of expertise; (d) flexibility; and (e) networking.
An organization’s mission is probably the most important benefit of outsourcing business tasks. An outsourced task no longer requires occupancy costs or staff supervision. Additionally, using a firm ensures greater continuity so that the organization does not have to hire and orient new staff for these critical positions.
The scalability of contracts ensures that a nonprofit can simply negotiate more hours/service from the firm or contractor as the organization grows. Since contractors and small firms are typically more scalable than an employee’s time, this facilitates faster growth of your organization.
Outsourcing to a firm with multiple associates also provides the organization access to a higher level of expertise. As an example, an organization may need a bookkeeper one day each week but require an experienced accountant monthly to close the books and annually to prepare for the audit. By outsourcing to an accounting firm, the organization pays a bookkeeper rate for daily work and an experienced accountant rate for higher-level functions.
An additional benefit that contractors and consulting firms provide is the flexibility to meet periodic needs. If an organization only needs a quarterly newsletter produced, for example, a designer can meet this need without creating a new staff position.
Finally, engaging contractors and consulting firms has the ability to increase or strengthen an organization’s network. A grant writer, for example, may have pre-existing relationships with several funders, and an HR contractor likely knows many prospective candidates for executive-level openings.
About the Author:
Read Dolph Ward Goldenburg's bio