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Developing Your Nonprofit’s Vision Statement

The work of developing a vision statement is challenging. It is sometimes so difficult a task that organizations begin operating without them, only to find themselves lost without a North Star. Other times organizations develop their vision at the beginning, but find that the vision needs to be revised as the organization grows.

Opinions vary about how regularly you should visit your vision statement. Our view is that you should check in on both your mission and vision statements each time you engage in long-term strategic planning which, for most nonprofits, is generally every three years.

The following process is appropriate for organizations in need of developing a vision statement. If you already have a vision statement and need to revisit it, yourselves whether your vision statement continues to meet the criteria. If it does, you’re all set. If it doesn’t, you can use this process to revise the vision statement. 

Step One: Identify the Participants to the Process 

The two most common process variations for getting the vision statement written are: 1) A vision statement is developed by the staff and proposed to the board; 2) A vision statement is jointly written by board and staff members. The best process for your organization will be largely a function of your organization’s culture. Another question to ask yourself before getting underway is whether it is advisable to gather feedback from the entire workforce before beginning the drafting process. This can be accomplished by an online survey and is often helpful as a means to get buy-in from your full staff.

Step Two: Familiarize Yourself with the Definition of a Vision Statement. 

A vision statement is:

  • A statement of the desired future state of the organization
  • A statement of where the organization is headed, what it intends to be, or how it wishes to be perceived

Step Three: Familiarize Yourself with the Characteristics of an Effective Vision Statement. 

Six characteristics of an effective vision:

  1. Conjures up images and pictures of what it will be like to achieve the organization’s vision
  2. Exciting and compelling
  3. Clear and easy to grasp
  4. Measurable
  5. Has appeal to a wide audience
  6. Represents a big, hairy audacious goal

Step Four: Dream Big!

Reflect silently on the question below. After a few minutes of reflection, write whatever images come to mind. Discuss your ideas as a group.

When you allow yourself to dream on a large scale about what our nonprofit might accomplish over the next 25 years, what pictures come to mind?

Step Five: Brainwrite & Brainstormstorm

Reflect silently on the question below. After a few minutes of reflection write the words, phrases, or concepts that come to mind. Discuss your ideas as a group.

When you think of the desired future state for nonprofit, what words, phrases or sentences come to mind?

Step Six: Write a Vision Statement

Generate different combinations of the words, phrases, and concepts to form possible vision statements until you reach a consensus.

Step Seven: Submit Vision Statement to Board for Approval

The new or revised vision statement must be approved by the board of directors in order to be be adopted for use by the organization.