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Corporate Governance

Use Your Vision to Find Untapped Resources

Do you struggle once a year at planning time to refine your vision statement and then consciously or unconsciously put it aside until next year? You may be missing out on a powerful tool to draw resources to your organization. Besides serving as a roadmap to the future you foresee, your vision can motivate others to join you on your journey, as clients, activists, service providers, donors and more. It is because your vision, when constantly referenced, adhered to and exploited allows others to get excited about and buy into the future you picture. It becomes motivating for and irresistible to them. And they will enthusiastically jump on the band wagon to be part of something that they see has the ability to significantly change their community for the better.

To have this sort of influence your vision statement must have a community focus. That is, instead of speaking to how the organization will be seen, it points to the impact the organization promises to make in the community. This makes sense if you consider who would choose to join your organization merely to help it be the “best,” the “most successful” or the “most visible” when offered the opportunity to work instead with organizations that promise to create a community where, for instance, people are safe, self-sufficient, healthy and committed to one another.  

Assuming you do have a community-focused vision statement, let’s look at how you can maximize its ability to work for you. Most vision statements reflect several strategic intents. For instance, a homeless shelter might have a vision that commits to providing a warm, caring and safe environment where the currently homeless are able to access nutritional meals, hot showers, clean clothes, beds and entrĂ©e to potential employers in an environment of dignity and respect. In this case, the strategic intents are 1) providing a warm, caring and safe environment for the currently homeless; 2) ensuring that the currently homeless have access to basic needs such as nutritious food, hygiene, clean clothes and a place to sleep; 3) providing the homeless with the opportunity to find employment that can lift them from their current situation; and, 4) ensuring that currently homeless individuals are treated with dignity and respect.

Begin by identifying the strategic intents in your vision statement. Then, for each, brainstorm those businesses, institutions or individuals that might also be interested in, or would benefit from, having a similar impact. In our example, those that might be interested in ensuring basic needs such as food, hygiene, clean clothes and a place to sleep could include grocery stores, restaurants, chefs, food and beverage corporations, farmers, soap manufacturers, hotel/motel chains, hostels, thrift stores, clothing stores, clothing manufacturers, mattress companies, families that have a loved one that is/was on the streets, social workers, the police, health care workers, hospitals, foundations that support the homeless and hungry, residents who live in the area, university professors who research the reasons for homelessness and so on. Keep the ideas flowing. Get creative when listing possibilities.

After you have identified as many broad categories as possible for each strategic intent, determine which of these categories have the greatest capability to serve as good strategic partners and/or to provide resources to your organization. Strategic partners may include other nonprofits with a similar mission or local government. Needed resources may include direct service volunteers who will cook, clean, do wash or serve meals. They may include people who will serve on a think tank to recommend policy or serve as advocates and lobby your politicians. Or, they may be people who will donate funds to keep the doors to the shelter open. Plug the broad categories of entities most likely to meet your needs – e.g., food and beverage corporations and hotel/motel chains – into a search engine such as Google, along with “vision” or “vision statement” and the words that make up your strategic intent. What will return are specific businesses, foundations or individuals that share your beliefs, concerns and commitment. You now have several entities to approach and a common bond from which to start a conversation.

Avoid going in with an outstretched hand. Research what their needs are and ask for an appointment to discuss how you might help each other accomplish your shared vision. Focus on advice – not money or time – at least initially. People are almost always willing to offer intellectual capital. That often leads to money, gifts in kind, shared services or volunteer time once they get to know your organization and become invested in it. Meanwhile, your organization will have expanded its reach dramatically – thanks to your vision.

Speaking of thanks, I’m indebted to my colleague Steve Bowman of Conscious Governance in Australia for generously sharing this concept.

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