Mission, Vision, Values Facilitation
by Sharon Richmond, MBA '88
Many nonprofit organizations seek assistance with strategic planning. ACT has found that a successful strategic planning project requires that there first be clarity and agreement on the organization's mission or purpose. The organization's mission must be clear, and agreed to by the major stakeholders, before undertaking a strategic planning process. ACT can help the organization by introducing a process that will result in shared agreement on mission, vision, and values.
The words "mission," "purpose," "vision," "values," and even "strategy" can hold very different meanings to different people. Each organization must clarify what it means by each of these terms.
The priority is to have agreement among the people involved, not to have "the right definition." That said, the following definitions provide useful guidance for many organizations. The simple diagram that follows shows the links between these elements.
Jim Collins and Jerry Porras describe a well-constructed vision as being comprised of two parts: a core ideology and an envisioned future.
Core ideology includes both the essential purpose of the organization, why it exists, and the core values, or what we stand for.
Envisioned future is made of both a clear picture (vision) of what the organization will become and the major long-term results to be accomplished. (Collins and Porras call these "BHAGs" - big, hairy, audacious goals.)
Once the first three elements are in place, strategic planning can begin.
Mission/Purpose - A statement of why the organization exists, at the most meaningful level. It is aspirational, in that it can never be fully achieved. In this way, the purpose states why the organization does the work it does, but does not define how that work is to be done.
Vision - A clear, specific, compelling picture of what the organization will look like at a specific time in the future (one, two, or five years), including those few key metrics that define success. It defines key results achieved and yet to be accomplished, the expected impact to the clients, and it describes specific behaviors that the organization must display to be successful. A clear vision delimits potential strategies; it helps define what's within or outside of the organization's bounds.
Values - The boundaries within which the organization will operate in pursuit of its vision. It is critical to distinguish between core values (those on which the organization will never compromise and is willing to pay a price to uphold) and aspirational values (those that the organization espouses, but has yet to live up to in day-to-day operations). To be meaningful, values must be described in clear behavioral terms.
Strategy - A clear plan - time- and market-based - that describes the path by which an organization intends to reach its vision. Strategy determines such things as resource priorities, organization structure, and what issues get daily organizational attention.
These elements are all part of the organization's picture of its desired future: The mission defines why the organization exists, what it aims to accomplish, and how it will proceed on its journey, while the strategy specifies the practical steps the organization will take to achieve its vision.
The most important deliverable from this type of project is an engaged, motivated organization, clearly focused on where it's going and ready to decide how to get there.
The typical deliverables from a Mission, Vision, Values project in a nonprofit organization include:
- Stakeholder agreement on mission of organization, resulting in renewed commitment to and enthusiasm for the organization's work (most important deliverable).
- A clear, shared picture of what the organization will look like in two to five years, compelling enough to rally commitment of the people.
- Agreement on the (few) core operating values, and the behaviors that reflect them.
- New, revised, or clarified Mission, Vision, and/or Values statement documents. For different organizations, each of these pieces may be more or less important, and agreement on them may differ. Team and organization should choose to revisit and rewrite only those parts that warrant the effort.
- Interview Executive Director (ED) to elicit his or her viewpoint, to establish goals for the process, and to create a list of stakeholders to interview.
- Individually interview five to nine key stakeholders (board members, staff, and other key stakeholders, e.g., donors, partners, govt. agency reps) to assess alignment on mission, vision, and values. If wide divergence appears, additional interviews may be required.
- Hold small focus groups (up to seven people), if needed, to complete the picture. Ensure that people are in different groups than their boss, if possible, to increase the ease of open dialogue.
- Complete mini-assessment of the clarity and alignment regarding the mission, vision, and values, and meet with ED to present findings. If the ED is resistant and unwilling to hear, consider ending the project.
- With ED, design iterative discussions where core stakeholders will clarify their views of the mission, vision, and values for the organization. Provide enough education for the group so that they know what they are trying to do, and why. (See recommended reading list.)
- Design additional communications and discussions to build stakeholder buy-in with additional parties. Help the client plan how to communicate these elements throughout their organization.
- Complete ACT Deliverable.
Model ACT Projects
Related Questions and Answers
How does a nonprofit committed to Christian values deal with exclusion from funding?
We are a nonprofit performing arts organization based on Christian values and beliefs. All full time staff and board of directors must be committed to Christian values and beliefs. As a result, the city of Seattle, WA excludes us from arts funding because we discriminate based on religion. We are not a church and do not have alter calls. We just view art from a Christian perspective. Any thoughts on how to deal with this funding issue?
Based on my reading of your questions, I think the core issue you are grappling with is one of employment practices, and not necessarily one of organizational mission, vision, and values. It sounds like you've had feedback that your practices may be perceived as discriminatory, and this is limiting your funding sources.
If you haven't done so yet, we strongly suggest that you consult an attorney (labor/employment), to be sure that you aren't violating any laws, and that you aren't inadvertently jeopardizing you not-for-profit status.
As far as seeking funding sources for whom your values-based hiring practices aren't an issue, the best I can suggest is that you contact a fundraising clearinghouse, like the Foundation Center or the Grantsmanship Center. They might have experience with situations like yours.
Can you suggest a process for developing a list of core values?
We do not have stated, or even understood, core values. As a new leader in the organization, I am undertaking a process to develop core values. I expect that this is the start of long (perhaps endless) change management process to impact the organization's culture. I began the process by facilitating a brainstorming session with the whole staff (small groups, then as a whole) to get a scan of the staff, determine what the current values are, and come up with some themes for core values. The next step is a management retreat (10 managers) that will likely include a few board members. I hope to come out of that retreat with a draft of core values, and some vision for how we will use them. Can you suggest a process design to use for this retreat?
If I understand you correctly, you are asking how to help your group develop a solid draft list of core values, and a plan for how to use them. Without knowing more about your group, its history, and its underlying level of agreement on your vision/values, it's tricky to propose a generic meeting design. That said, here are a few ideas that you may be able to use to move the organization forward:
- Tell the whole truth and nothing but. Only identify and list core values that the organization currently practices. These are values for which the organization has paid some sort of price. Why? Because nothing breeds cynicism faster than a list of core values that are contradicted on a daily basis. For example, if you say "honesty" is a core value, and your group regularly discusses how to spin things to the media, nobody will believe that honesty is a real value. On the other hand, if your organization owns up to its troubles, as Johnson & Johnson did during the 1982 Tylenol crisis, honesty would be considered a credible value.
- Aspire to more. You may want to also create a list of Aspirational Values - those that you wish you lived up to, but don't currently. This can provide a good focal list for improvement efforts.
- Talk them up and use them often. If the values aren't incorporated in the actual decision making processes (e.g., "How will that decision further our values?"; "Will that decision go against our core values?"), they won't have any teeth. Leaders and others must walk the talk of these values in visible ways every day.
- Put your money where your mouth is. Make sure that rewards and recognition flow consistently with your published values.
Can we use an 8-year-old mission statement to guide our strategic plan?
My organization has a mission statement that we developed eight years ago. Can we use that to guide our strategic plan?
It depends. If the board of directors agrees that the mission statement still accurately reflects what the organization stands for (i.e., the purpose and values of the organization), then you can use it to create a clear picture (vision) of the organization two to three years in the future. If, however, the board, executive director, or critical stakeholders don't agree that the existing mission statement provides clear guidance, it would be wise to take the extra time to update the mission, vision, and core values statements.
The mission of the Urban School of San Francisco is a good example of a strong statement: "The Urban School of San Francisco seeks to ignite a passion for learning, inspiring its students to become self-motivated, enthusiastic participants in their education—both in high school and beyond."
- The school's purpose is clear: "To ignite a passion for learning"
- The values it espouses—"inspiring growth, helping high school students to be self-motivated and enthusiastic participants in their own education"—provide clear parameters within which the organization will function. The mission would clearly conflict with a strategy that called for no student participation in school decisions, as well as a strategy in which parents, teachers, and administrators did not share in that decision process.
- This mission statement is used regularly inside the school and applied in many situations in which decisions are made and resources allocated.
- At the start of each strategic planning cycle, they start by clarifying what the school will look like in X years, at the close of the current planning horizon.
If all nonprofits are mission-driven, why do we need formal vision and mission statements?
If all nonprofits are mission-driven, why do we need formal statements? And aren't mission and vision statements really the same thing?
Being "mission-driven" can mean radically different things to different people. Our Best Practices section has a case example that helps illustrate this. You definitely need a clear statement, just to make sure that all your key players are in agreement about what your organization's purpose and core values are.
In my experience, some people do think that mission and vision statements are the same, but I don't. Organizations benefit from being able to succinctly state their "purpose" (mission), or the reason they exist. Purpose, at its best, is something your organization aspires to, rather than something it expects to reach. These examples illustrate such missions:
- Provide transitional housing for homeless families.
- Improve the quality of life through a balance between technology and nature.
- Support and promote court-appointed volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children so that they can thrive in safe, permanent homes.
Such mission statements provide a guiding star to help an organization stay on track and keep their activities well-focused.
Vision statements, in contrast, are best if they are very concrete and describe a desired future state, at a specific point in time, thus providing the organization with a clear focus. Visions galvanize efforts. When well executed, strategic plans yield achievement of the vision.