Ideas Can’t Change the World… (Part 2)

January 30, 2012

This series is about how to turn your ideas into reality. The first post in this series gave you some thought provoking questions to help assess a need and how to best meet that need. Check it out here.

Once you’ve identified this need, you are going to need people to join you in providing time and/or resources. Not to mention that depending on your age, experience, and reputation, there may be people who will be skeptical to support you and your work. So, what can you do to earn their trust and establish credibility?

As I alluded above, hopefully your character speaks for itself and people will invest in youregardless of the cause. However, that will only get you so far and if you don’t have a clear vision and strategy, you won’t fool people more than once.

In my case, I was only a junior in college when I decided to start CFA with no international work experience, no non-profit experience, no HIV/AIDS experience, and a very small circle of influence to work with. One of the ways that I was able to close that credibility gap was by creating a plan that communicated a compelling vision with a focused and well-reasoned strategy. That along with my evident passion for the cause made up for what I lacked in experience. I have been asked some tough questions in my short career, some more constructive than others. The better you can anticipate those tough questions in a plan, the more convincing you can be.

Mission and Vision

The first place to start when creating a plan of this nature is to determine the mission and vision of the organization or project. If you don’t have clarity on this, there is no way that anyone else does. One of my favorite sayings on vision is, “When it is misty in the pulpit, it is foggy in the pews.”

Many people interpret the terms “mission” and “vision” in different ways but I think it is important to reach a consensus on this if we want these statements to build the foundation for our cause. The mission is the reason you exist at the broadest level. It is a general heading for the organization and it rarely changes. For example, there are many organizations that exist to end homelessness in their city. That is not a bad thing, but the mission is not necessarily what distinguishes you.

Our Mission: CARE for AIDS exists to mobilize the church in caring, both body and soul, for families affected by HIV/AIDS.

The vision is where you get to capture the imagination of your audience with a picture of what could be. A compelling vision will move people to action. This will also be the filter through which you will make decisions about what activities are productive to your mission and which are distracting. A vision is usually achievable in 1 to 5 years. It is not uncommon to have multiple visions over time that all support the same mission.

Here are some important characteristics of great visions. They are:

Unique – The first question out of most people’s mouths is, “What makes your vision unique?” If your vision already exists, people will be less inclined to support it.

Focused – If you try to do too much, you won’t do anything well.

Energizing – It should be what gets you, your staff, and your volunteers out of bed in the morning.

Concrete – Make sure it is measurable. It is not easy to engage people around a vague, indefinite vision.

Aggressive – It is hard to get others excited about a small or insignificant vision.

Achievable – It is good to be ambitious and dream big, but if you continuously fail to reach the vision, it can damage credibility and morale.

Our Vision: In the next five years, mobilize 75 churches as CARE for AIDS centers throughout the most highly HIV-infected communities in East Africa. These centers will serve over 5,500 families annually. Meanwhile, CARE for AIDS will be employing nearly 200 full-time African staff members to deliver this care and spread the gospel to the continent.

Have you ever been fully engaged with a vision? What made it so engaging?