Charities, social enterprises - stop talking impact, sort out your vision!
So often nowadays all the talk is about results, impact, social change but I have found that the most common and critical problem within a charity or a social enterprise is its vision. Perhaps the most underplayed and understated part of an organisation, the vision sets the scene for the future of the organisation and its overall value. It is the 'be all' and 'end all'!
I do get it - for many charities and social enterprises the founder(s) set the vision at the beginning and that sets the scene for the organisation. But this is not enough - the vision needs to be central to the organisation, day-in day-out. It is the cornerstone of social change. Forget talking about your impact - until you can really describe how you want the world to look like, what you want your community to be like, talking about measures is meaningless.
The vision needs to be an inspiring and energy driving statement for the organisation - it needs to be what you, your staff and your volunteers refer to all the time. Too often people are really good at saying what they don't want... this is not enough - you have to say what it is you do want and be really clear about it. And don't be limited by thinking your vision needs to be succinct - have one with as many words, images, videos as you want if that's what you need. You can shorten it for sharing if you need to.
I encourage people to rewrite their vision using the words they normally use and to say what they really mean. What is their vision, their ideal picture of the future? What do they really want to see happen? How do they really want things to be? Really!
Its amazing how often people haven't really thought about this. They can say what they don't want, they can say what action they want to take, but where they are heading to - not so much!
If you don't know what your ideal is, how can you tell how much you have contributed to it? People often talk of the difficulty of measuring social impact but in my experience it's because they are not clear about where they are heading. It is no good at all to say your work has been a success if you can't say towards what.
Curiously, very often an organisation sets its mission before its vision but this makes little sense. How can you know how to help if you don't know where you are heading?! It is nice to be helpful but if you are intent on making the world a better place you have a responsibility to know where you are heading, to know the picture you are going to contribute to.
A mission needs to make sense. If by achieving it the organisation is not getting a lot closer to its ideal then it needs to change.
For example if an organisation's vision is to see the people in their local community always supported at key moments in their life, (e.g. pregnancy, early childhood, starting school, deciding on what to do when they leave school, dealing with relationships, being a parent, coping with loss), the mission needs to significantly contribute to this.
When a mission is about achieving social change, it is also really important that the organisation aims to get to the root of a problem. Change is difficult enough to achieve so don't waste time and effort on changing the surface - get to the crux and go for it. You may not get it all right but by golly you can hold your head high for making genuine progress.
And beware, if you claim more than what you have achieved, you will lose respect, both inside and outside of your organisation. Basically, don't lie, don't use creative liberties - in the long run it doesn't help you or the people/environment you are supporting.
Do your best to work out what you think will change things and write your mission from this. For example, an organisation's vision might be to see people live without constant fear in their neighbourhood. The mission needs to address why the fear is there - is it the environment they are living in, a group of people causing fear, or misinformation, or maybe a combination of things. This is why social change is difficult. It is more than helping, its about tackling the things that are hard to work out, really tough to deal with, and often even harder to change.
So, if you're a socially driven organisation, check your vision and mission... is it a clear and inspired vision and mission setting the scene for your organisation? Or is it ambiguous, vague and/or mundane? Don't be afraid to change it, reinvigorate it or even rewrite it, because it is the most important thing you will do all year, if not the whole life of your organisation.