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Out of Control? Into the Vision...

Amy Schiffman and Stefan Teodosic
February 16, 2021

We recently worked with an organization considering the launch of a large-scale capital campaign. As we prepared for the feasibility study, it became clear that key stakeholders were unaligned on the case for support. Some felt this organization needed more physical space to accommodate additional clients. Others considered the need for endowment support to be most important, and still others felt certain that programmatic enhancements and low staff salaries should be addressed and prioritized. This organization’s new CEO was in the challenging position of attempting to please board members, staff and donors and yet, at the same time, found it difficult to achieve consensus on even a single critical issue. To be honest, we were worried she would resign.

That’s when we realized that what the organization was missing was not a stronger board, or a more engaged executive committee, or even a million dollar gift (although that would have been nice). What they didn’t have was a clear vision. There was no guiding light to help leadership make strategic decisions and identify organizational values in order to advance toward a common goal. But when we suggested they embark upon a strategic visioning process, the initial response was, “There is absolutely no way this board, and our major donors, will align around a common vision. We just can’t agree on what’s right for this community and what’s next for the organization - especially during a global pandemic.”

Three months, many meetings, and several drafts later, the board approved the organization’s new strategic vision and we are now in campaign planning mode with a clear case for support. This was not easy, but that CEO will attest to the fact that the process was transformational. Stefan likes to remind our clients that “we can do hard things” - and let’s be honest, things are hard right now. It has become clear that our sector (and the world, really) is fearful of planning for the future. How can we blame them? We live in a time that is unpredictable and seemingly booby-trapped - when one challenge is overcome the next is right behind it. 

We believe strategic visioning is one of the ONLY things we can do to prepare and plan for the future. It serves to align teams, identify organizational priorities and imagine what is possible. And the beauty of the visioning process is that it does not rely on predictability. Today we’re answering some of the most frequently asked questions about strategic visioning.

Why should I create a vision when the environment around me is out of control?

We know it seems backwards, but creating a vision is one of the most effective ways to gain back your control. By mapping out your future and the goals you hope to achieve, it becomes much easier to make strategic decisions, align stakeholders and address challenges as they arise. 

What’s included in a strategic vision?

Visions push us to imagine the state of our organization in 1 - 3 years. They outline goals and identify achievements. They are specific, measurable, forward thinking and idealistic. When we create a vision we establish a North Star that our team and stakeholders can rally around. We not only describe what happens in theory, we define practices, culture, environment and feelings. 

In today’s freebie, we’re sharing some questions to reflect upon that will help you consider what might be part of your vision for the future. Click here to get started.

How can I create a vision for the future when I have no idea what the future will hold? 

This is precisely the point of strategic visioning. When we embark on this process, we don’t know what the future will hold, but when pushed to imagine your organizational future, we feel confident that you and your team will rise to the challenge. 

Even the strongest leaders need partners to help develop a vision that represents an organization’s future potential. Next week, we’ll dive into choosing visioning partners in order to maximize the process.