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Vision and Mission? Try Audacious Goals Instead

When it comes to vision and mission, Altruist Partners consistently advises our clients to do one thing: don’t worry about them.  Instead, get exceptionally clear on an ambitious and concrete goal that will focus and energize your organization for action.

We see tremendous time and effort put into writing and finely tuning visions and missions. Annual retreats are often dedicated to their creation, and consultants often arrive heralding the need for a crisp and inspirational vision/mission duet.  So why do we generally advise our clients to put their energy elsewhere?  The bottom line is that we emphasize a non-profit world of action, and only rarely do vision and mission directly drive action … or money.

Here are examples from leading national nonprofits:

These are indeed great sentiments.  But they don’t really tell us what each organization will accomplish. They are too abstract and too broad to help drive specific action.  Assume that you are beginning your three-year planning cycle, could you use any of the above aspirations to help you:

  1. Know what you should prioritize in your plan?
  2. Know where you will focus your efforts?
  3. Communicate to a potential investor what they’ll get for their money?

Instead of spending time on abstract futures and missions, we recommend social enterprises create goals that are clear, concrete, and actionable  … and ambitious as all get out.  Create a BHAG: a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (thank you, Jim Collins).

Collins describes a BHAG  as follows:  “A BHAG is a huge and daunting goal — like a big mountain to climb. It is clear, compelling, and people “get it” right away. A BHAG serves as a unifying focal point of effort, galvanizing people and creating team spirit as people strive toward a finish line. Like the 1960s NASA moon mission, a BHAG captures the imagination and grabs people in the gut.”

The key difference between a BHAG and vision is the goal aspect.  JFK’s famous proclamation that the United States would embark upon “… landing a man on the moon, and return him safely to the earth, by the end of the decade” was a perfect example of a BHAG.  It was specific, measurable, actionable, and time based.  And it was absolutely big hairy, and audacious.

Such a statement forces accountability because it cannot be misunderstood.

In addition, it is extremely difficult to develop a compelling BHAG unless you have a strong sense of direction and clarity over why you exist — what problem you are trying to solve.  Essentially, creating a great BHAG demonstrates that you do have a strong sense of vision and mission.

BHAG’s, properly written, help an organization rally around a specific outcome.  Goals such as these can be shared with investors who may just get excited because they can see precisely what their money will accomplish.  Not ‘no child without food’ but instead, ‘By 2020 we will help 100,000 children currently suffering from malnutrition, receive a balanced and healthy diet”.

Certainly, make sure that you know why your organization exists.  But get a BHAG written and socialized … and you’ll find that mountains are easier to move

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