Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Should Vision Statements Be Impact Statements?

A KEY AND EARLY COMPONENT OF STRATEGIC PLANNING involves a critical review of an organization's vision and mission statements.  Most of the cultural nonprofits I work with have mission statements; few of them have vision statements.  I often refer to mission statements as the articulation of where an organization is now (and its importance for being, serving, and providing a public benefit) and the vision statement as the embodiment of the organization at some future point in time.  Sure, that's what visions are all about, but shouldn't they be about something more?
That's where impact comes in and thanks to practitioners like Hildy Gottlieb and her Community-Driven Institute, the women of the Social Change Divas Daily and others, I really do think that the vision statement must answer this question:  if we consistently meet or exceed our mission, what will be our organization's impact on our audiences and our community?  
Without long-term external impact, what's really the point of your nonprofit?  I posed this question to a planning team last week and they responded immediately and with great conviction that the impact of meeting their organization's mission would result in deeper public engagement on a variety of levels and acceptance by schools as a vital educational resource.  These were very tangible (and achievable) responses, not the usual "we want to be the premier" this or that.  I'm meeting with this same planning team today to continue the impact discussion and I'm can't wait to hear where they take the conversation next.
So, I think it's time for a change of terminology.  I'm attracted to the idea of renaming the "vision statement" the "impact statement".  I think it's vastly more descriptive, both for the organization and for its publics.  The name embodies action and realities that dreamy visions often fail to pin down.

2 comments:

Dean Krimmel said...

Hello Anne,
I couldn't agree more, and would add that such a fundamental change in focus can have a powerful, liberating effect on how all of us approach our work. For me, "impact" puts the horse (what we're trying to accomplish) back in front of the cart (how we get the work done). It also reveals how little most of us know about our audience and community.

In my planning work, I use a quotation from Peter Block's "Fearless Negotiations" as my mantra: "Change your thinking first, your actions second." I talk to clients about the pitfalls of impatiently identifying solutions to problems that aren't fully understood. And, I warn them about creating self-fulfilling vision statements that simply project current activities into the future. I take the Hildy Gottlieb approach because it very clearly, and simply, shifts the discussion outward, away from institutional activities themselves, toward audience and community needs. Framing the discussion in terms of impact is another way of posing the “So What?” question, isn’t it?.

Ultimately, the most successful organizations in our field, as my Qm2 colleagues always say, are those that are valued and even beloved by the people they serve. You get there by acknowledging, understanding and acting on audience needs; understanding and communicating the deeper purpose your organization fills (beyond your mission); by acting consistently on a set of core values; by building on your strengths and doing what you're good at, dropping what you're not; and, by inspiring confidence in others that you will deliver on your promises.

Impact Statement: the ultimate reality sandwich. I love it. Thanks for your words of advice.

Regards,
Dean Krimmel, Creative Museum Services/Qm2

Dean Krimmel said...

Hello Anne,
I couldn't agree more, and would add that such a fundamental change in focus can have a powerful, liberating effect on how all of us approach our work. For me, "impact" puts the horse (what we're trying to accomplish) back in front of the cart (how we get the work done). It also reveals how little most of us know about our audience and community.

In my planning work, I use as my mantra a quotation from Peter Block's "Fearless Negotiations": Change your thinking first, your actions second. I talk to clients about the pitfalls of impatiently identifying solutions to problems that aren't fully understood. And, I warn them about creating self-fulfilling vision statements that simply project current activities into the future. I take the Hildy Gottlieb approach because it very clearly, and simply, shifts the discussion outward, away from institutional activities themselves, toward audience and community needs. Framing the discussion in terms of impact is another way of posing the “So What?” question, isn’t it?.

Ultimately, the most successful organizations in our field, as my Qm2 colleagues always say, are those that are valued and even beloved by the people they serve. You get there by acknowledging, understanding and acting on audience needs; understanding and communicating the deeper purpose your organization fills (beyond your mission); by acting consistently on a set of core values; by building on your strengths and doing what you're good at, dropping what you're not; and, by inspiring confidence in others that you will deliver on your promises.

Impact Statement: the ultimate reality sandwich. I love it. Thanks for your words of advice.

Regards,
Dean Krimmel, Creative Museum Services/Qm2