Start with the heart and soul of your organisation. Vision statements should come from the heart of the organisation. They are not a paper exercise out of a marketing textbook but the opportunity to distil and agree some of the essence of an organisation. Often the creation of a vision statement helps trustees and senior managers to establish what they see as some of the fundamental tenets of the organisation.
Good vision statements act as a pole star in the darkness. The best vision statements give every member of staff, every donor and every volunteer a reference point against which to measure their own experience. A vision should allow people from across the organisation to say, ‘I believe I’m part of that’, and feel empowered and proud to be part of what the organisation is achieving. Alternatively, a vision statement may give people a reference point through which they can articulate and understand their frustration between their experience and the promise of the vision or mission.
Vision statements are for everyone. The vision statement shouldn’t be for funders or trustees or major donors, but for everyone. It’s not just for the marketing or fundraising teams. It’s not an elite document for the walls of boardrooms or CEOs. It’s often easy to find out how powerful and relevant the vision document is – ask staff what it is. It’s amazing how often staff doesn't know their own organisation’s vision, mission or values.
Every charity wants to be caring, dedicated and friendly. Charities often use vision statements to confuse two things: features that make them distinctive, and features that are part of a universal charity value-set. For example, most charities are caring towards their staff and their beneficiaries. It’s good for a charity to be caring, but hardly unique. ‘Caring’ as an attribute for a charity is the equivalent of marketing a car as ‘silver’. So in any vision statement make sure the space that the charity occupies is more about what’s unique and distinctive, than what’s important but ubiquitous.
Secure wide ownership but don’t write by committee. Vision statements need to inspire. They also need to feel relevant to the stakeholders of the organisation. The solution to this paradox is not to make vision statements feel like legal documents or fill them with sub-clauses and subjunctives. The solution is to consult widely across the organisation before drafting or re-drafting a vision statement and then consult once the statement is complete. However, the drafting of this statement should be left in the hands of one or two people – preferably individuals with good, if not great, copywriting skills.
Less is more. Omit redundant words in vision statements. Do they really need to say ‘registered’ charity (is there any other kind?) or practical support (not many charities provide impractical support?) or positive change (who promotes negative change?). While tautologies should be omitted, picture-painting adjectives should not. Vision statements should paint a picture in the minds of readers of the kind of organisation you are and the world you believe in.
Live it, breathe it, be it. In the end, it doesn’t matter what your vision or your mission or your values are if you don’t live and breathe them. Too many vision statements are confined to the walls of a charity’s reception or a board room. The best vision statements in the world are worthless if they aren’t guiding and giving focus to people every day.