Know Thy Organization!

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Organizational mission, vision, and values help you know who you are, where you want to go, and what makes your organization exceptional. As Dr. Holger Nauheimer explains, ″Without an understanding of the organization’s purpose, its actions are confined to management by objectives. Consequently, members of an organization without vision are not able to really take part in creating their own professional future—and the future of their working environment.″

LAPA recently had the privilege of facilitating a planning retreat that revisited and refined a 30-year old nonprofits basic assumption. After experiencing dramatic growth, the organization required redefinition. Its executive director, Board, and management staff needed to realign its history and philosophy with its current goal of vast program expansion. When participants understood the subtle distinctions among mission, vision, and values, they were able to apply the concepts meaningfully to their own work and to emerge with a stronger sense of shared purpose.

Given that ‘mission’,  ‘vision’,  and ‘values’ often circulate as vaguely-defined buzz words, how do we make sense of these fundamentals?  Allow me to explain.

‘Mission’ is your purpose and reason for being. It’s what your organization wants to be remembered for doing. (i.e., to improve the health of the South Bronx community by providing affordable and high-quality medical care.)

‘Vision’ is what you want–a picture of the future you seek to create. It communicates a deeper purpose that motivates staff and excites funders. (i.e., a broad and highly accessible network of community-based health centers that incorporates state-of-the-art medical technology.)

‘Values’ are specific behaviors or attributes that define your organizational character. They differentiate your organization from the dozens (if not hundreds) of other groups with similar missions. (i.e., we recognize and understand the cultural differences of our patients, meet individual patient needs one person at a time, and promote an internal staff culture of professional growth.)

To help your organization clarify its mission, vision, and values, I suggest a four-phase plan of action. This includes:

  1. The drafting of mission, vision, and values statements by key staff.
  2. A half-day retreat to spark an organization-wide exchange of ideas and perspectives.
  3. Revisions to the documents that incorporate core ideas from the retreat, and;
  4. Widespread promotion of the redefined statements, both internally and publicly.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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