A few years ago we were on site with a client whose Walk program was steadily slogging along. They hadn’t bounced back from the 2009 slump yet and weren’t seeing the growth that leaders at every level of the organization were hoping for and working towards. About halfway through a conversation with the project team something clicked - they realized they had a lot to be proud of. They had become lost in the day-to-day mire of running a simple enough program within a complex, multi-faceted organization. They had lost sight of the purpose of the program and, to some extent, the organization: to raise critical, mission-fueling funds and change lives.
After some rigorous and candid conversation on this topic, one of the team members said:
“We all need to re-believe.”
It was a turning point for the meeting and their program. The core team recognized that somewhere along the way their belief dimmed. They needed to reconnect with the mission of the organization, the mission of the program, and their part in it. They needed to re-believe that they had the power to change the world.
While the freshly-scrubbed smell of the new year still lingers, I love to protect a quiet hour or two to sit with myself and Plenty’s vision. Our vision is a world in which there is plenty for everyone. We believe that there is an abundance of knowledge, generosity, empathy, and potential in the world – ready to be unlocked. For us to achieve our vision we need you to achieve yours. We need you to succeed, and your success requires that you believe: believe that you can end poverty, believe that you can create hope, believe that you can find the cure, believe that you can protect the planet – believe that you can make a difference.
I challenge you to spend some time with yourself and your nonprofit's mission statement, and think about these three questions:
1. Is your mission or vision seared on your heart? I imagine you can recite it from memory. Your mission statement is seared upon your ears and eyes at every opportunity, at every team meeting, on every inner-organization memo and every piece of marketing collateral. But do you believe in it?
With so many things you could be doing, you’ve chosen to dedicate your time and talent to one organization. For many, the choice is deliberate and driven by a deep, personal passion for the cause. You may have a grandparent with Alzheimer’s, or struggled to read as a child. You may have first-hand experience with hunger, or have lost a loved one to AIDS. Your organization’s mission is irrevocably synonymous with your personal mission and it is seared on your heart because you have no other choice.
On the other hand, you may have found your way to your organization because you knew you wanted to make the world a better place. Your passion was for change and progress in the broader sense. There were a dozen causes that you got really fired-up about.
2. Have you articulated your part in your organization’s mission? Your organization’s mission is likely both big and bold. When you achieve that mission and are able to shut down operations and close the doors, everyone will have food, water, shelter, safety, transportation, health, education, opportunity, access, and liberty.
There will be celebrations in the streets.
Until then, you have a critical role to play in achieving your organization’s mission. Try a simple exercise with a blank piece of paper. Write your mission at the top and your role at the bottom and in between chart the actions that you can take, actions that are within your power and purview, that lead to achieving your mission. Are you going to cure cancer? Are you going to provide clean water to the world? Are you going to eliminate racism? Certainly you can’t do these things single-handedly – but there are steps that lay directly on the path to fulfilling your nonprofit's mission that are yours, and maybe yours alone. Take a few minutes and map them out. Talk with your boss and your team about them. Pin them to your corkboard as a reminder for when the velocity of the year speeds up and you’re not sure what to do next. Come back to them as a touch point.
3. What is your mission for the year? While your organization’s mission may be one of your personal passions, the work you get paid to do is only part of your personal mission. As you start the year, think about all of the aspects of your life that would benefit from a bit of deliberation and creativity. This is different than creating a list of things you resolve to do. It’s more about setting the broader tone for the kind of year you want to have and the kind of person you will have to be in order to do that.
Don’t get too bogged down in the pressure of wordsmithing or thinking you have to create something that will stick with you for life. Set something simple for the year, reminding you of what you want life to be like.
The milestone of a new year is an ideal time to remind yourself what you believe in. Remind yourself why you do what you do, the part you play in achieving your organization’s broader mission, and the kind of world you want to personally create. Write down the answers to these questions. Share some of them. Keep some of them private. Give yourself something to return to, something you created when your heart and mind had a few moments of quiet calm before the fantastic storm of 2015 hit.
Happy New Year.