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COVID-19 Leadership Lessons: What’s More Important Than Your Mission Statement?

May 4, 2020, Matt Lehrman

In his recent webinar on crisis engagement, Matt Lehrman, founder of Social Prosperity Partners, gave substantive and actionable recommendations to help you protect the external and internal relationships upon which your organization depends. Today he takes a close look at the role your mission statement can play.

I’ve never met a nonprofit organization that didn’t have a mission statement. We understand that a nonprofit is organized around a succinct statement that clearly expresses its programmatic intentions. This is what we are doing and how we are doing it. 

Yet, I’m often surprised by how few organizations possess a vision statement explaining the why. The vision statement expresses the ultimate achievement of an organization’s objectives. The sad truth is that faced with the public health and economic crisis of our current situation, there is going to be disruption—and perhaps even cessation—of programs that nonprofits consider essential to their mission. When you find yourself chasing dollars to keep programs going, that’s a pretty low place to be—and this is where the vision statement is key. 

In my experience, a nonprofit organization’s resilience comes more from its vision than its mission because, in general, your donors love you more for what you are reaching to achieve than for any specific project that you conduct or any program that you run. No doubt, it is difficult and painful to stop working in ways in which we are practiced and have grown comfortable. Mission statements (and the programs that execute them) aren’t supposed to be too flexible.  They’re generally supposed to persevere.  

Yet in this moment, nonprofit leaders must recognize that some ambitions and ways of thinking and doing things must be left behind—just like a big branch falling from a tree. The vision statement is what remains—the trunk & roots, if you will. Together they represent the durable vision of your organization that, over time, has the power to grow back in new and creative ways. 

Give yourself, your team, and your board time to reflect. How does your vision statement inform how you might respond in these uncertain times? How can you use this vision as a way to frame messaging to your supporters? What are your next steps?

Learn more

Recorded webinar (available through June): Crisis Engagement: 12 Tasks to Sustain Donors in Turbulent Times

About Matt Lehrman
From a 20+ year career in nonprofit management, Matt Lehrman founded Social Prosperity Partners, a practice devoted to uniting leaders in endeavors of great imagination and initiative. He has consulted and presented workshops on donor & stakeholder engagement, audience development, civic engagement, and loyalty & customer engagement throughout the US and UK.

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