The Importance of Vision
When I was a kid, my grandfather (Papa) always used to tell me “You’ve got to have a dream.” If you don’t have a dream, you don’t have a goal. If you don’t have a goal, you don’t have anything to get you up and working in the morning.
If he asked you what your dream was, you were expected to have an answer. I always did. I dreamed of organizing a Fourth of July parade on our street, of putting on a play with the neighborhood kids, of travelling, and of many other things. His next question was invariably “What do you need to do to get there?”
Yes, Papa. I have a dream.
Later, when I was in college, I created a list of all the things I wanted to do in my life. It included everything from owning a home to writing a book, from travelling to Egypt to learning to play the harp. Each New Year’s Eve, I updated the list, noting which of the “to dos” I’d finished, crossing out ones that were no longer of interest, and adding new goals to the list. I’d also think about what I could complete during the upcoming year.
Papa was right. Knowing that list was there kept me focused. I had goals and similar lists for shorter term objectives as well. As I look back, the times that I’ve been most successful in my life have been where I have had my dream, my goal, very clearly in mind, could envision the steps required to get there, and was working toward it.
And then came Life.
Of course, it hasn’t always been easy. Life has a way of throwing challenges in the way of even the strongest dreams. We have all had bad times. I’m thankful that my tough times have never left me homeless or without food, and that I’ve always had the support of family. However, I realized recently that those tough times left me scared to dream.
During those years, it felt like every time I made a plan, Life stepped in the way. Eventually, I stopped dreaming. It was too discouraging. I even gave up even the littlest of dreams … window shopping, browsing catalogues, looking through magazines that showed vacation locations, envisioning myself doing the things I loved to do, like golfing or getting a massage. And I also stopped updating my lifetime goal list.
I was rather surprised when I realized the impact tough times had on my ability, or desire, to dream. I was also startled to see the outcome. Those times had fewer moments of achievement, fewer successes, and were much less directed. I felt as if I was drifting.
As I reflected on those difficult times this weekend, I realized two things. First, I realized just how difficult it must be for someone who grew up in a trauma-filled environment to get to the point that they can dream. It made me appreciate how much some of the people I know have overcome, and wonder what I can do to help others gain the mental space to dream.
Second, it occurred to me that nonprofits (and companies in general) have the same need for a dream that people do. Of course, for a nonprofit, the dream is called a vision.
Adrift without a Dream.
I’ve worked with organizations that don’t have a dream, or who have lost sight of their dream. Their organizations, like my life during more challenging times, drifted and evolved without a plan.
One nonprofit leader I worked with said they felt like they were adrift in a ship. They set a goal as a team, and started sailing in that direction. Then, invariably, they drifted off course. She told me that the reasons varied. They saw a seagull and decide to chase it, or the ship started taking on water and everything stopped so everyone could bail. But the result was always the same. They never made it to their destination. After years of drifting, they had begun to wonder if they could. Suggestions of strategic planning evoked a stream of sighs. They were weary of dreaming, as Life always seemed to blow them off course.
As a consultant, I was able to help them reestablish their vision and turn the ship in the right direction. When we were done, every team member could answer the question “What is your dream?” and articulate what they needed to do in the short term to get there. The organization is now back on its financial feet and making steady progress toward its destination. More importantly, it is prepared to handle the seagulls, leaks and storms their ship faces on the way.
What’s your dream?
As a nonprofit, it is important to have a dream. It’s what will keep you moving in the right direction, instead of drifting aimlessly. It will inspire your staff and your donors and make sure your staff returns each day with passion.
For a nonprofit, your dream is generally articulated in your Vision Statement. It describes the impact you will have in the long run. What will be different in 50 years because of the work you do? Will you end homelessness? Will every child have the opportunity to play a musical instrument? Is theatre more accessible? Does every city have green space?
Your strategic plan and your business plan answer the follow-up questions: Now, what do you need to do to get there? And how will you keep Life from getting in your way?
Resources for Dreaming.
If you’re looking for help crafting a vision, check out my earlier blog post called Why Vision Statements are so Hard to Write (and How to Make it Easier).
You can also find some advice on the Top Nonprofits blog post called 30 Example Vision Statements.
Do you have something inspirational to share about dreaming big and setting goals? Please share!
About the Author
Heather Fitzpatrick is a management consultant who learned the consequences of failing to dream. As a result of a weekend of reflection in the quiet North Cascades, she has dusted off her list of lifetime to do list, scratched off learning to play the harp (as music was never her forte), and added travelling to Costa Rica, learning to meditate and building a blog that delivers value to readers to her to do list! If you want to help her with this last goal, please subscribe to her blog and send her some input as to what subjects you’d like her to cover!