Mission, Vision & Values Facilitation

Many nonprofit organizations seek assistance with strategic planning. ACT has found that a successful strategic planning project requires that there first be clarity and agreement on the organization’s mission or purpose.

The organization’s mission must be clear, and agreed to by the major stakeholders, before undertaking a strategic planning process. ACT can help the organization by introducing a process that will result in shared agreement on mission, vision, and values.

Defining Terms

The words “mission,” “purpose,” “vision,” “values,” and even “strategy” can hold very different meanings to different people. Each organization must clarify what it means by each of these terms.

The priority is to have agreement among the people involved, not to have “the right definition.” That said, the following definitions provide useful guidance for many organizations.

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras describe a well-constructed vision as being comprised of two parts: a core ideology and an envisioned future.

  • Core ideology includes both the essential purpose of the organization, why it exists, and the core values, or what we stand for.
  • Envisioned future is made of both a clear picture (vision) of what the organization will become and the major long-term results to be accomplished. (Collins and Porras call these “BHAGs” — big, hairy, audacious goals.)

Once the first three elements are in place, strategic planning can begin.

  • Mission/Purpose - A statement of why the organization exists, at the most meaningful level. It is aspirational, in that it can never be fully achieved. In this way, the purpose states why the organization does the work it does, but does not define how that work is to be done.
  • Vision -  A clear, specific, compelling picture of what the organization will look like at a specific time in the future (one, two, or five years), including those few key metrics that define success. It defines key results achieved and yet to be accomplished, the expected impact to the clients, and it describes specific behaviors that the organization must display to be successful. A clear vision delimits potential strategies; it helps define what’s within or outside of the organization’s bounds.
  • Values - The boundaries within which the organization will operate in pursuit of its vision. It is critical to distinguish between core values (those on which the organization will never compromise and is willing to pay a price to uphold) and aspirational values (those that the organization espouses, but has yet to live up to in day-to-day operations). To be meaningful, values must be described in clear behavioral terms.
  • Strategy - A clear plan - time- and market-based - that describes the path by which an organization intends to reach its vision. Strategy determines such things as resource priorities, organization structure, and what issues get daily organizational attention.

Putting the Pieces Together

These elements are all part of the organization’s picture of its desired future: The mission defines why the organization exists, what it aims to accomplish, and how it will proceed on its journey, while the strategy specifies the practical steps the organization will take to achieve its vision.