Heart and Hammer: Mission, Vision and Strategic Planning

Heart and Hammer: Mission, Vision and Strategic Planning

November 9, 2015

In 1990 I became the President of the YMCA of Greater New York and quickly experienced the power of matching my personal mission with my professional mission. For the last 25 years, I have had the honor of working within nonprofts in the public service sector. Now I work in New York City government. This experience has helped me hone a deeply felt personal mission: to enable all individuals, especially young people, to fulfill their potential and live a productive and happy life.

Similarly, I believe that nonprofits can improve their ability to fulfill their potential by maintaining an unwavering focus on mission, vision and strategic planning. In fact, I want to be a very loud voice proclaiming that to be an outstanding nonprofit, you must have a mission, vision and strategic plan that is updated every three years and is embraced by all of your partners: staff, volunteers, the board, clients, your private/public partners and the community at large. This principle is the basis for my formula for nonprofit success spelled out in my booklet: Heart and Hammer (Powerful and Effective Leadership for Nonprofits).

The heart of a strategic plan is the mission (with all of its passion) and the vision (with its powerful forward-looking promise). The hammer of a strategic plan comes down to the way those elements are measured and implemented.

The mission of a nonprofit is its reason for being, the product it brings into the world and the difference it strives to make in the lives of other people. The mission of a nonprofit should be its pulse as well as its spirit. It unites staff, volunteers, participants, donors, government personnel and the general public. It is the heart and soul of the institution. Every person within the family of a nonprofit should be able to match their personal mission and purpose with their organization’s mission and cause.

Much has been written about the importance of developing a mission for a nonprofit organization. Indeed, the mission is critical as a unifying force that reflects the values, the product and the "bottom line" of the nonprofit. Ultimately, the mission statement should be a rallying message of purpose – short, exciting and memorable: WHAT the organization does, WHOM the nonprofit serves, WHERE it does its work and HOW it impacts the world.

I like to think of a mission statement as like a great song or painting: it should linger in your mind as a reminder of the good that is happening for others in the world because the organization exists. As a leader at a nonprofit, your mission should emanate from the heart and be repeated often with the reverence of a prayer, the hope of a great future and an absolute determination to make it happen.

The hammer of a mission statement is the organization’s commitment to base its actions on its mission, make its decisions based on its mission, live the values incorporated in the mission and test itself continuously on the fulfillment of the mission.

I introduce you to my hypothetical nonprofit: "Heart and Hammer NYC” Our mission: to offer teenagers in all five boroughs of New York City life-skills training and coaching to inspire and impact their expectations, confidence level and personal accountability for life success.

While the mission of a nonprofit defines its purpose for today, its vision is tomorrow's promise. The vision propels an organization forward while protecting its heritage. It translates the mission into future accomplishments by defining the quantitative and qualitative impact the mission will have on society.

Necessarily, a great vision is grounded in a theory of change that defines the improvement you will make in society and identifies the evidence of the mission’s impact.

"Heart and Hammer NYC" will serve 1 in 10 NYC teens by 2020 with a life coach and 100 percent of these teens will graduate from high school with college or career plans.

And to achieve the mission and vision of an organization, a strategic plan must be developed that provides a roadmap of goals, strategies and measures of success. Nonprofits cannot reach their destination without a roadmap, as well as a set of actions that will build a path that overcomes bumps and twists. Internal and external analyses, including an honest SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats) are also an essential step in the strategic plan.

My experience as a leader, manager, volunteer and teacher in the nonprofit world confirms without question that a strategic plan can be developed and implemented in every nonprofit within a defined period of time. It is simply a question of the skill and will of an organization's staff and board leadership. Together, a nonprofit staff and board leadership can define mission, vision, values, theory of change, goals, strategies, financial pro forma and measures of success. With all of these pieces in place, an organization's strategic plan can unify its mission, vision and programs for all stakeholders in the nonprofit's community.

Today in New York City, nonprofits are a critical engine of service for its 8.4 million residents. In fact, 15 percent of all New Yorkers work for a nonprofit. These organizations serve nearly all New Yorkers in some capacity, especially those in greatest need. As champions of the nonprofit sector, it is both our great opportunity and responsibility to ensure the heart and hammer of a powerful mission, vision and strategic plan in every organization.

Paula Gavin is New York City's Chief Service Officer, responsible for NYC Service. NYC Service is the city agency which promotes, engages and supports volunteer service in New York City and connects volunteers to the city's greatest needs. She also spent many years in the nonprofit world, as Executive Director of New York City’s Fund for Public Advocacy and President and CEO of YMCA of Greater New York.

Paula Gavin
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