In a recent survey, 37% of responding nonprofit leaders and board members reported that they were concerned that their mission was “less clear and compelling than it was in the past.”
If the individuals closest to the cause are uncertain, how can they hope to send clear, compelling messages to the volunteers and donors they depend on to accomplish their work. How can they ensure that their client’s needs are being met?
On one hand, the survey data isn’t surprising. When is the last time the leadership of your organization took a look at the “big picture “ by scanning the environment you serve? Most organizations do plan, but often that process is more about building on what was done in the past than on rethinking the premise of the underlying mission that drives you. Rapidly changing demographics, technology, political factors and economic realities can mean that your mission, or the underlying value proposition you offer to your donors, volunteers, and clients, has gradually slipped out of step. You may be “spending” resources in areas that no longer produce a solid return on your investment. You may be missing emerging client needs that desperately need your resources.
In strategic planning sessions with my clients, we begin with the big picture. Using a mapping process to identify key factors that impact that organization’s operations. This scan also identifies areas where the data is unclear or missing. Is the community’s understanding of our value proposition strong, slipping, in need of work? Are the clients we serve younger, older, or different from those we served in the past? Are we taking advantage of partnerships, technology and funding sources that are new or emerging? Is there turnover in our volunteers? What does the year-over-year data on our donors tell us? With these questions identified and any gaps defined, we can develop specific strategies to collect baseline data, identify objectives and build action plans to move forward.
Best of all, a data-driven big picture is an excellent way to involve board members and key leadership in the process of fine-tuning your mission for the current environment. The process itself builds understanding, alignment, and commitment to the cause. Involving board members allows them to make a meaningful contribution. A group process helps overcome barriers and engages your team in a meaningful way that creates new group norms, and even makes it easier to manage difficult or “rogue” members.
If you think a third of your leadership and board might question your mission, now is a great time to develop a process to explore what that means. The right process and data you can create a clear picture of your organization’s future—and tweak your mission if needed.