Strengthening the voice of CSO in Zimbabwe

Vision and Mission

The first essential step in starting an NGO is to determine the purpose of the organization. Why do you want to start an NGO? Can the same work or activities be done with or without an NGO? Follow this process by clearly producing a concise written statement that describes the charitable mission and purpose of the organization. The statement must be broad enough to reflect the values of the NGO and why it should exist. It is important to remember who the target community of the organization is and why it is important to reach out to this particular community. Is there likelihood for expansion of the NGO into other regions within and outside the country of origin?

In the last years many people inundated NANGO Offices with consultations on how to start an NGO. There were varied reasons for participating in this noble agenda, unfortunately in some cases these actions were not seen in the sense to respond to community needs but to create employment to the founders. It’s critical to understand that social enterprises are created in reaction to and also to deal with particular community problems or needs, which the government or any other institution may not be able to effectively deal with.

It is also necessary to envision what the organization will become what the long term goals and objectives are. This planning process can be achieved through short and long term plans (annual and strategic plans). Some NGOs are set-up to deal with short term needs of particular communities but some of them will remain longer than the problems which were the reason for their establishment.

Vision

Your NGO’s vision is what the community would be if the problem is solved. A vision is the "ideal situation" that you hope to achieve. At the most basic level, your vision could be "World Peace".

"A vision is a picture of a future state that we are pursuing, it provides context in which to make decisions. Vision is outcomes-focused and also seeks to "position" the organization/community amid the dynamics of a complex and ever changing world." (Hinterhuber & Popp, 1992: 4)

Hinterhuber and Popp maintained that having a vision is behind any new, entrepreneurial activity or major corporate change program. Having a strategic vision is linked to competitive advantage, enhancing organizational performance and achieving sustained organizational growth (Beaver, 2000: 205; Kirkpatrick et al., 2002: 140; Seurat, 1999: 553-54).

Clear visions enable boards to determine how well organizational leaders are performing and identify gaps between the vision and current practices (Eadie & Edwards, 1993: 12). Organizations preparing for transformational change regularly undertake "revisioning" (Flower, 1992: 71) exercises to help guide them into the future. The visioning process itself can enhance the self-esteem of the people who participate in it because they can see the potential fruits of their labors (Martin, 1992). As Beaver (2000: 205) argues "Unless organizations have clear vision about how they are going to be distinctly different and unique in adding and satisfying their customers, then they are likely to be the corporate failure statistics of tomorrow." Lacking vision is used to explain why organizations fail to build their core competencies despite having access to adequate technical resources to do so (Prahalad & Hamel, 1990: 86). Business strategies, which lack visionary content may fail to identify when change is needed (Hamel, 1996: 80). Lack of an adequate process for translating shared vision into collective action is associated with the failure to produce transformational organizational change (Folz, 1993: 17).

Vision and Mission will explain your organization’s existence and focus its activities. And, this will "sell" your NGO to the world. Writing a vision and mission is like crafting an elevator pitch: make it short, clear and a little intriguing.

But let’s look at the difference between vision and mission first. Establishing a meaningful vision requires consultation and time. You must identify a problem that requires a solution. Sometimes this is very complex and technical and sometimes it is simple. The best way to determine the vision, and thus problem to be solved, is to spend time with your target group/s to learn their needs, aspirations and future goals. The ability to be flexible and to listen is important. It’s important to get it right now, before you start down the wrong path. You might want to bring technology to help a community travel faster between two villages, but the community might really want and need a health clinic. Just because you have something to offer, does not mean that it is helpful to the community. You must learn to adapt your offer to the needs.

You should research organizations similar to the one you are starting to ensure you are not going to duplicate the work of other groups. It is more beneficial to address a neglected need, than a need that is already catered for, unless the other groups are not doing a good job. In that case, you can attempt to do better.

Your ideal community after the problem is solved is, therefore, the basis of your NGO’s vision.

Why don’t you try thinking about the problem in the community that you could solve and how it would look when it’s solved? Then try writing that vision in less than 30 words!

Mission

Every organization has a mission, a purpose, a reason for existence. Often the mission is why the organization was first created — to meet a identified need. Sometimes, the same problems that the organization initially tried to address continue to haunt generation after generation. In that case, the organization's purpose doesn't change — although the way of doing its business has probably evolved. In other cases, even 10 or 20 years can change the landscape so markedly that the original mission must be updated, altered, or changed dramatically in order to address those new realities. A good mission statement should accurately explain why your organization exists and what it hopes to achieve in the future. It articulates the organization's essential nature, its values, and its work.

There is a right way and a wrong way to write a mission statement. The statements above, turned out with tongue in cheek by Dilbert, illustrate the wrong path to take. These sounds like mission statements produced by a badly constituted committee at Dilbert's company. So, let's start with the basics.

What Is a Mission Statement?

Every nonprofit organization must have a mission statement. It describes the purpose for which your organization exists. Without a clear mission statement, you may drift off course. With one, you can measure every activity against it. It will keep you clear-headed and out of trouble. A great mission statement is also a great branding tool. Use it to promote your organization and to help convey the essence of what you are all about. Essentially, your mission is your goal--your reason for being. Try answering the question, "Why did I start this organization?" The answer will be your first try at writing your mission statement. To carry out your mission, you will develop tactics and objectives. All of these will be part of your strategic plan. But first, pay attention to writing a clear, succinct, and inspiring mission statement. It will pay off in the end and keep you from wasting time and resources on non-essential activities.

The Benefits of a Well-Defined Mission Statement

It focuses your energy and clarifies your purpose. When you try to write your mission statement, you will find that you really have to define what you are going to do. Many questions will come up that must be resolved. For instance, who will you serve? And, who will you not? Are you concerned just about your local area? Or the whole state? Be careful to keep your mission narrowly focused to ensure that you don't bite off more than you can chew.  A well-defined mission statement can and should motivate board, staff, volunteers, and donors. It also helps attract people and resources. A mission statement is not just for internal use or to be submitted to the IRS for tax-exempt status. It is a beacon that will attract people and resources to your cause. And, they will be the right people and resources. Make your mission statement compelling as well as clear. It will be your best public relations tool.  A good mission can help you to get status. If you plan to apply for tax-exempt status or some other IRS classification, the IRS will be looking at your mission statement to see if your organization matches its requirements for that type of entity. Know what you are applying for and draft your mission to match the requirements.

Some Tips for Writing Your Mission Statement

Bring in many perspectives. Get lots of input from the community you plan to serve, as well as from your board, staff, and volunteers. This will help you develop a broad base of support. You can get this input through meetings, surveys, or phone calls. Ask people what they think or need in regard to the area of services you plan to offer. Allow enough time. Time spent now will pay off later. So, don't rush the process. Provide time to reflect on the information you gather, to write an initial draft, to allow key participants to read it, and to make changes. Be open to new ideas. This is especially important for the founders of the organization. You may have had a tunnel vision while getting your organization set up, but now it is time to get some fresh perspectives. Be open to different interpretations of what you should do and to new ideas about how to accomplish your goals. Use brainstorming techniques to ensure that all ideas come forward freely. You can winnow them down later.  Write short and only what you need. The best mission statements are short and state the obvious. Your statement's length and complexity depends on what your organization wants to do, but keep it as brief as possible. You should be able to use the statement frequently, so make it brief and succinct. As Tony Ponderis of the Fund-Raising-Forum says, the mission statement should be "...short enough to remember and easily communicate. Strong enough to inspire."

If your vision is "to help impoverished communities in Zimbabwe become economically independent and environmentally sustainable," then addressing this vision becomes the mission of your NGO.

In other words, the mission is the "how" of your NGO. How you will get it done—in a few short sentences.

The mission consists of specific goals. For example, the G-lish Foundation’s mission statement is: "To help impoverished communities develop sustainable sources of income and establish practices that will regenerate the local environment for current and future generations. We also express this in a "tag line": Income generation, re-generation, next generation. Income generation refers to the projects that we are developing to create sources of income, re-generation refers to the environmental work we are doing to "re-generate" the environment in the communities where we are working on income generation, and next generation refers to the future and the legacy we aim to leave."

Notice the emphasis on generation, hence "G" lish, a simple term incorporating our key vision and also nicely branding our organization—a bonus and point we planned for months before.

Your NGO’s mission statement will serve as a guide for the direction of your organization. It will also clearly explain your focus to donors and the general community. Basically, it’s the steering wheel of your organization. You wouldn’t drive a car without a steering wheel (I hope), and you probably best not drive an NGO without a vision and mission.

The statement should be concise and incorporate the core values and philosophy of your NGO.

What is your NGO’s vision and mission? Can you express them in less than 30 seconds and less than 30 words? If not, try rethinking and re-crafting them on paper.