Is your mission getting in the way of your vision?

Clear VisionYou can’t read a non-profit blog or newsletter without tripping over commentary on trends…online giving is up, but gift growth rate is down overall, social enterprise is on the rise, etcetera. Maybe I’m waxing optimistic, but I’ve been thinking about the trends we’d like to see. You know aspirational stuff. And for a word nerd like me, that means things like communicators choosing their words with greater intention.

Accountability is a frequent trend topic these days, with donors applying additional scrutiny to the organizations they support and an increase in the availability (or not) of impact data online.  But there’s another type of accountability that I’d like to see get its fair share of attention, and that’s a commitment to a vision instead of a mission.

Yes, you read that right: more vision, less mission.

Indeed, I am boldly suggesting that you start  thinking of yourselfas vision-focused organization rather than a mission-focused organization? You betcha. And here’s why…

Your vision is why you do what you do. Your mission is what you do and how you do it. Vision is your aspiration, mission is your action plan. For example, if your vision is a world where every child has access to a great education, your mission might be to build schools in rural villages. Or it could be to connect classrooms with technology. Or it could be to mentor teachers so they can all teach math with confidence. Many organizations can share the same vision. Each organization should have its own mission, its unique way of blazing a path toward that vision.

So what difference does it make, really, whether you focus on and talk about mission or vision?

  • A focus on vision allows you to better communicate impact, because your vision identifies the problem  you are trying to solve
  • A focus on vision allows you to adapt your approach based on emerging needs and innovations (for example, providing computers for children who aren’t in walking distance of a school)
  • A focus on vision allows you to grow without requiring a re-evaluation of whether your growth opportunities support  a more narrowly-defined mission
  • A focus on vision helps you keep your WHY front and center

This might be a bit of a shift in how you think about communicating. I don’t recommend you ditch the mission-talk. I’m simply asking you to consider giving a little more air-time to your vision, and using your mission-message as an explanation of how you’ll get there.