I’ve written here before about why it’s important to have advocacy in your mission statement.
I believe that; I think that articulating that advocacy is a part of what we do, and how, is an important signal organizations give to themselves, those they serve, and their potential allies. Mission statements describe the problems our organizations are trying to solve, and often how we think that we’ll successfully address them. They are our reason for being, and they’re what people should be able to hold us accountable to.
And advocacy belongs there.
But, today, for the final post in Organizational Transformation Week, I’m focused on vision statements instead. Vision statements describe the world as we want it to be. They are aspirational, not necessarily measurable. For that reason, they are sometimes seen as expendable, as “fluff” that might be inspirational for a staff retreat but do not really deserve top billing on your organization’s website, or in your grant applications.
But giving short shrift to visions, and to the visioning process from which they flow, is a mistake, especially for organizations committed to embracing a social change approach and to pivoting their services to address not just the consequences of injustice but the root causes, too.
My work with organizations around the framework of The Building Movement Project is what really drove home, for me, the significance of vision statements and the particular roles they can play in charting an organization’s social change direction. They always describe a transformed world that, by necessity, demands transformed organizations. They are always larger than any one organization can accomplish on its own, prompting leaders to think about how to ally themselves with strategic partners. They always require policy changes, suggesting advocacy priorities. And they always stretch our thinking, to imagine a world fundamentally different in distribution of resources and power.
A vision statement is not a summary of long-term goals from your organization’s strategic plan.
It’s not an extension of your mission statement that guarantees the need for your work in perpetuity.
It’s a call to arms, a rousing slogan for a protest poster, a beautiful dream of the world as it should be.
Developing your vision statement, then, should involve a process that, itself, approaches the ideals captured in that vision. It should be participatory, and empowering, because that’s how we want our future to be. It should flow from the deepest desires and most urgent hopes of those with whom we work, because few people get excited about working for someone else’s vision for their lives. It should be beyond the realm of what’s possible today, because otherwise we’re allowing our tomorrows to be crippled by the mundane constraints of “feasibility”.
Our vision statements, then, are, in a sense, reminders of why organizational transformation is such a critical task, guideposts to where that transformation should take us, and sustenance for the journey that can be arduous and grueling.
We need them. And we need them to be really, really great.