Every company, business, or nonprofit organization needs a guide, a vision. They need something each person who works for, works with, or is interested in the organization can look to for guidance and assurance. Often, businesses and nonprofits – both big and small – achieve this with a vision statement.
With a vision statement, they can clearly and effectively outline what they want their work to achieve. However, there are often so many goals and aspirations within an organization that it can cause some uncertainty, so making a concise, efficient vision statement is a must. To help, these are a few tips and tricks on how to create a nonprofit vision statement.
What is a Vision Statement?
Typically, a vision statement is one sentence that embodies a clear and inspiring long-term change that will come from a nonprofit’s work. It outlines why the nonprofit exists, who or what it serves, and what it hopes to accomplish. It is, as implied, the nonprofit’s vision for the future. With it, anyone who volunteers or works for a nonprofit can gain an understanding of what the nonprofit does and orient themselves to help achieve that goal. The vision statement provides a similar effect on donors or potential donors, assisting them in understanding what change their donation can enact.
However, it is important to understand that a vision statement is not a mission statement. To illustrate the difference, one can consider the vision statement as the treasure marked on a map and the mission statement as the map itself. While the vision statement serves as the common goal for a nonprofit, the mission statement clarifies the who, what, and why of a nonprofit. The goal of a successful mission statement is addressing how the vision will be achieved: who will play a part, what they will be doing, and why they are doing it. The two statements work together to outline the goal of the nonprofit as well as the method to achieve that goal.
The Keys to a Successful Nonprofit Vision Statement
Although it may seem like a simple task, creating a successful vision statement can be quite stressful. The vision statement encompasses the grand vision of a company or nonprofit. In doing so, it holds a lot of responsibility for the organization. Oftentimes, people can write entire paragraphs or pages about the goals of their organization. However, for a vision statement to be effective, it must be short and to the point. The best vision statements are usually 5-20 words – never more than 25. A successful vision statement is efficient and effective, so the fewer words the better. A random person – without any knowledge of one’s nonprofit – should be able to read and understand a nonprofit’s vision statement in a matter of seconds. As a bonus, shorter vision statements are often easier to remember.
However, length is not the only important part of a successful vision statement; another vital element in a successful vision statement is word choice. As noted, simplicity, understandability, and memorability are all important aspects of a vision statement, so the word choice must abide by those same principles. A successful vision statement will not contain any buzzwords or needlessly complicated SAT vocabulary words. Typically, words like “synergy” or “dynamic” conjure up a variety of meanings in an individual’s mind, making them potentially problematic or ambiguous. Simple, commonly-used words have the most impact and will help a nonprofit’s vision statement avoid any confusion or misinterpretation.
Examples of Successful Vision Statements
With those keys to success in mind, here are a few examples of great vision statements from both nonprofits and businesses:
- Alzheimer’s Association: “A world without Alzheimer’s disease.”
- Teach for America: “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”
- Microsoft (when it was founded): “A computer on every desk and in every home.”
- Australia Department of Health: “Better health and wellbeing for all Australians, now and for future generations.”
- LinkedIn: “Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.”
Each of these vision statements clearly and concisely informs the reader on what the organization intends to accomplish. None of them contain any complicated language or buzzwords, and none of them are too long. They each outline the goal of their respective organizations, giving insiders and outsiders an understanding of what cause, issue, or market they have chosen to address.
Measure Your Success Against Your Vision Statement
Often, success can be hard to measure, especially in regard to nonprofits: how much is enough? How much must an organization do to create change? How much change is enough change? Yet, when a vision statement has been confirmed by those starting and/or working for a nonprofit, they can then use their vision statement as a means to measure success. Notably, a vision statement serves as a reminder to keep a nonprofit on track. If a nonprofit is not working to enact the change outlined in their vision statement, then that nonprofit is not being successful – at least in the way that it intended. By constantly reflecting on a vision statement, the work of a nonprofit can stay more focused and effective.
However, that is not say that a vision statement cannot adapt or change over time. By measuring success with a vision statement, a nonprofit may find – through their work – that their vision or ultimate goal may need to change. For example, Microsoft no longer uses their original vision statement, largely because the computer industry has changed. At their founding, the organization dreamed of a “computer on every desk and in every home,” but since then, home computers have become portable laptops, tablets, and smartphones. In this age of new, portable technology, the original vision statement no longer applies. While a vision statement can maintain focus and effectiveness, it can also be adapted when necessary to ensure continued success.
A Powerful Vision Statement Makes a Difference
Without a vision statement, any group, organization, business, or nonprofit can lose their way. A vision statement defines them, inspires them, and keeps them focused. However, to ensure success, a vision statement must be short and simple. The more digestible the sentiment of the statement is, the better. Through creating understanding and inspiration, the work done by an organization can stay on track, consistently bringing that vision to life, making a better future. This is how a nonprofit creates and measures success: through a vision, a goal of creating a better world.
For more information on this subject, check out our article on what mission and vision statements can do for your nonprofit. This, and the other articles we’ve compiled, will help you make your vision come true.