You know your mission. Your raison d’etre. The core of what you do. (At least I hope you do).
But hiding in plain sight are a bunch of shining, inspiring, hopeful visions.
Not just the practical day-to-day work, but your hopes for what you’ll achieve if your wildest dreams come to fruition.
Big donors, and small ones too, are inspired by these dreams. It’s not that they won’t give to the mission; they’ll just give more to your vision.
Why? Because they can visualize it, and it makes them happy to think of this vision becoming reality.
Your nonprofit likely has a mission or vision statement of sorts. But… which is it? And does the difference matter?
Not all mission statements are vision statements
But they really should be.
Let me explain by showing you the difference between a mission and a vision statement for a food bank.
I randomly searched for a few mission statements from food banks across the country, and found these rather pedestrian examples:
Works to feed hungry people and solve hunger issues.
Providing food for hungry people throughout [region served].
To nourish [community they serve] by feeding hungry people.
To lead the movement to end hunger in our community through activism, volunteerism and healthy food for all.
These aren’t bad mission statements. They just aren’t thrilling.
They’re too focused on the “how,” rather than the “why.”
The “how” of feeding… nourishing… leading a movement… activism… volunteerism… and so forth. There’s nothing wrong with these ideas. It’s just that they lead your prospective donor to envision the process rather than the outcome.
Let’s look at some more outcome-focused mission/vision statements.
A big vision example
Let’s continue to consider food banks. I used to serve as director of development for one. We had a mission statement that was pretty much an overarching vision statement: “Our mission is to end hunger in San Francisco and Marin.”
Do you see how this differs from the mission statements I referenced earlier?
It’s not about the “how” or the “what” that is done. Rather, it’s about the “why.”
What could be if everyone came together in support of this ultimate goal. And this overarching vision inspired many folks to make unrestricted gifts to help us achieve this vision. A world (albeit local) where no one was hungry.
A small vision example
Not every vision must be the overarching kind described above. Little visions get people excited too. And a project of any size can set forth an inspiring vision. At the San Francisco Food Bank we also had mini-vision statements for particular projects.
These programs had their own vision and case statements, and were a way to inspire donors to increase their giving in order to bring these particular dreams to fruition. For example, we had a school snack program. Why?
To provide students in high-need public schools with the fuel they need to learn and excel.
The vision is not the provision of snacks. It’s the outcome of children who are able to focus and learn because their tummies aren’t rumbling.
We were starting a program to deliver groceries to seniors in their homes. Why?
To provide home-delivered groceries to support better health and increased self-sufficiency for seniors and neighbors with disabilities.
The vision is not the delivery of groceries, but that of vulnerable neighbors who might otherwise not be able to survive and thrive in their homes.
Missions and visions. Reality and hope.
Let’s compare missions with reality and visions with hope.
At its best, a nonprofit’s mission statement is a succinct expression of an organization’s essential reason for existence or core purpose. Some mission statements may include other elements, such as references to how an organization achieves its impact or what it most values.
Some nonprofits also have a vision statement as a supplement to the mission statement. The most effective present a description of the world as it would exist if the organization were to succeed in achieving its grandest aspirations.
I was struck by a recent post from Seth Godin called Hope and reality [Highlights are mine]:
Sometimes, we don’t sell what we’ve got, we sell what could be.
Book publishers, for example, buy non-fiction book proposals ($10 million for Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography) not the finished book. The finished book almost never matches what they were hoping for, but the hoping is fun.
Venture capitalists, at least in the early stages of a company, buy hope as well. The numbers that might be, that could be, not the numbers you have now.
Understanding this, it’s possible to draw a curve of hope and reality, over time. You need to be on a course toward the reality you seek, but bringing on partners is most effective when hope is ascending, not after reality sets in.
Take a look at your organization’s current mission statement
Do you see hope ascending? Or is it completely reality-based?
Also take a look at your case statements for particular programs you hope to get off the ground, or expand or enhance.
- Where are the hopeful visions tied to these programs?
- Where are the explicit, unambiguous outcomes a donor can visualize and truly become excited about?
Missions are about work and reality. Again, there’s nothing wrong with reality. It’s important, for sure. But you don’t want to come across this way:
Please give us money so we can continue to do our good work.
That’s pretty bland. Not to mention organization-centric. The statement is more about money and “our work” than about anything else.
Where does the donor see themselves in this story? At best, as a bystander.
You need the hopeful vision too.
Your donor wants to be a hero.
In Some Things I Have Learned in My Years of Fundraising, veteran fundraiser Jerry Panas lists 17 axioms of fundraising. You’ll want to know all of them, but these in particular struck me after reading Seth Godin’s afore-mentioned post on the benefits of selling “when hope is ascending, not after reality sets in.”
- People don’t want to give money away. They want to invest in bold, exciting, and inspiring ventures.
- You should ask for a specific amount, not a range.
- More than ever before, donors want to know the results of their investment.
- Donors give to exciting and audacious dreams.
- Donors give to change lives and save lives.
- A donor wants to know: Why should I give to this organization? Why this project? Why now? Why me?
What do you think? If you’ve got some exciting visions, please share!
P.S. Tie your vision and mission into your strategic planning. Read The Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning. You’ll find this primer on strategic and development planning on the Bloomerang blog (BTW: I wrote it). It’s a dive into what a strategic plan is/is not, and how a development plan is like a rib pulled out of the body of your organization-wide strategic business plan. Learn why no development plan should be created in a vacuum, what elements should be included in your different strategic plans, and how these plans interact.
This was an amazing article and supported what I’m doing against the wishes of my organization who are “embarrassed” by my efforts.
Thanks so much for putting into words why I do what I do.
Ezibu Muntu, Dance, Education, Culture