An Easy and Effective Vision

The decisions your board makes at this year’s meetings lay the foundation for the board’s legacy and your nonprofit’s future.

Often your board’s influence on your nonprofit takes years to become obvious. Incremental changes can happen immediately but are noticeable after the results are known. For example, cutting expenses to better align costs and income is easy to do. It can provide an immediate boost to financial health but most cuts limit future activity, which reduces sustainability. The decline in sustainability will only be obvious when the reduced activity affects the number of clients served, the value of the mission to the community, the generosity of the donors, or the level of community support. A reduction in sustainability is how the decline of a nonprofit starts, which would be a sad legacy for any board.

When a board focuses on incremental changes, it is unable to focus on the future, which results in the future being neglected. It is better for the board to focus on the near term and trust the staff to deal with incremental (operational) issues.

A simple question like, “What do we want our nonprofit to look like in 10 years?” is a great way to help board members visualize the legacy they will be creating. Once you have melded the various visions into a single vision, you have a foundation for creating a plan. The first step is to lay a foundation for the future, which might be all that can be accomplished this year. For many nonprofits a formal long-term vision, plan, and foundation for future activity would be a significant legacy for the board members whose terms are expiring.

Next year’s board can take the next step and adjust the vision to fit the changing needs of your community, changing economic environment, and to extend the vision another year. Incrementally changing the vision will help to keep the vision relevant and ensure that the changes in the vision minimally disrupt current activities.

A longer view of the needs of your nonprofit will make it easier for your board to ensure your nonprofit has the resources to fulfill the vision. As an example, it is easier to meet a large capital need when there are several years to create a plan and execute the plan. A long-term vision makes it easier for a board to anticipate capital needs.

Next Step:

Ask each of your nonprofit’s board members to describe the future they would like your nonprofit to have 10 years from now

Blend those diverse visions of the future into a single vision for your nonprofit

Create a plan which will lead to the fulfillment of your vision

Share your vision, plan, and your immediate and long-term needs with your community

Many visions fail because the board has insufficient time to gather the resources needed for success. Those resources are often talent, partners, community support, and other non-financial resources. Gathering financial support is usually easier when the other resources have been identified and a plan for their use can be shared. Knowing how and when resources are needed as well as the results the resources will produce is usually enough to convince donors and other community members to support the plan.

You will notice that as your vision unfolds, it will attract more support and it will gather momentum. As a result, you will make better progress than expected and find that each year your board will be bolder when adding the new 10th year to the vision. In some cases, you will find that your board wants to extend the vision beyond 10 years. Encourage them to be bold.

Each year the population of your community increases. With the increase in population comes an increase in the demand for your services. Your vision defines how your nonprofit plans to meet the growing demand and how its response will affect your community. The fulfillment of your vision will demonstrate the relevance and value of your mission to your community.

Take It Further:

Use your new vision to recruit board members who are inspired by the vision and want it to be their legacy too

Ensure your plan takes into account all of the elements of your business model

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