Starting conversations with your nonprofit’s mission puts the least compelling part first. Instead, start with your vision—the why. Move on to your values—the how. Only then state your mission—the what.
This is Simon Sinek’s Start with Why idea applied to nonprofit strategic conversations. It applies whether you’re conversing internally with your board, leadership team, and staff, or externally with the community you serve.
Start with why: Your deepest, most meaningful reason for seeking change in the world. Continue with how: The values and principles with which you pursue that change. Last, talk about what: What you do on a daily basis to help create that change in the world.
Here are strategic questions to get you started. Start using these with your board chair, then cascade the questions through your board, leadership team, staff, and people in the community you serve.
Vision (The Why)
- What is our deepest why … the reason we do our work in the first place?
- What is the end we are trying to achieve, possibly in formal and informal collaboration with others?
- How do we define the term vision?
- When we tell average people what our organization is striving to achieve, what do we say?
- How should we change/expand/contract our vision, if at all?
- Who else needs to be involved in making the vision come true? Have we involved them sufficiently in developing the vision?
- What big problems should we be trying to solve?
- What specifically should we do to solve the problems we reference in our vision?
- What kind of organization do we want to be?
Values (The How)
- What are the values that drive how we do our work?
- What are the values that drive how we do not do our work?
- What needs to change to bring our values more in alignment with our mission and vision?
- What needs to change to bring our values more in alignment with our community’s needs?
- Have we clearly articulated the ethical values that underpin our work? Are they consistent with the values we want to see in the amazing community we are trying to create, and with how we operate internally? How do we express these values to our key stakeholders? (Credit: Lisa Humenik)
- What are our organization’s nonnegotiable values—those we would maintain even it meant a financial loss?
- How does our organization’s culture reflect the values we publicly claim, and work to advance through our mission?
- How does our organization’s culture fail to reflect the values we publicly claim, and work to advance through our mission?
- What observable behaviors reflect the kind of organizational culture we want?
- What about our organizational culture is working well?
- What about our organizational culture is not working well?
- What distinguishes our organization in regard to how we do our work?
- What processes, technology, expertise, people, and systems are we using to achieve our mission one year from now? Three years? Five?
- What is unique about the way in which we work one year from now? Three years? Five?
- How do we measure success?
Mission (The What)
- What do we do?
- For whom do we do it?
- What does what we do make possible for the people we serve?
- How do we know when we’re succeeding?
- How do we know when we’re failing?
- What are the measurable outcomes we create?
- What are the measurable outputs we create?
- What would we need to change about our mission statement so it contains a verb, a target population, and an outcome that implies something to measure? (Inspired by this Kevin Starr article.)
- What do we do best? What should we do best?
- How do we define the term mission?
- When we tell average people what our organization does, what do we say?
- How should we change/expand/contract our mission, if at all?
- What do we do better than any other organization one year from now? Three years? Five?
- What are we famous for one year from now? Three years? Five?
- Where do we operate one year from now? Three years? Five? At the local, state, regional, national, or international level?
- What key milestones have we reached to achieve our mission one year from now? Three years? Five?
- What major achievements did we celebrate along the way?
P.S. Wondering about the languages in the featured image? Clockwise from top left: English, Esperanto, Italian, Spanish, Haitian, German. All the choices have specific meaning in my life—go ahead and ask me sometime!