The Four Pillars of Successful Nonprofit Leadership: Vision

The Four Pillars of Successful Nonprofit Leadership: Vision

They say you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone, and that sentiment certainly applies to your vision. Something as simple as waking up now leaves you stumbling, searching for your glasses as you work through early-morning grogginess. The moment you put on your glasses, everything is clearer. Your steps have purpose, and you can focus on making today bigger and better than yesterday.

An organization without a vision is like a person waking up and looking for their glasses— stumbling in the dark, primarily focused on avoiding problems as they navigate their way throughout their day. Once an organization has a firm grasp on their vision, the steps they take to improve have purpose.

You simply cannot get by on a mission statement alone: a mission statement only answers why you exist, but a vision statement answers where you want to go. A vision statement inspires all levels of your employees to strive for success. That is why vision is included as the third pillar of leadership in my book, A Guide to Achieving New Heights: The Four Pillars of Successful Nonprofit Leadership. If your organization is not quite seeing 20/20, read on to learn what makes a worthy vision statement and how to develop one that works in your executive search, bringing about excellent leadership qualities.

First Things First

Gone are the days when CEO’s would carry out the board’s vision. Now it is up to the leader to take initiative and create the vision. Answer the question “Where do we want to go?” and work with your board members to take your organization in the desired direction. As a leader, you truly align the team and keep things fluid.

What are the Specifics?

While a broad vision statement such as “provide the greatest donation to cancer research in the United States” can surely excite employees at a pep rally, it won’t achieve much more than that. While a vision statement needs to be ambitious, it also needs to set standards of excellence while inspiring enthusiasm and commitment.

Where are My Glasses?

Equipped with the fundamentals of vision statements, it’s time to create one for your nonprofit organization. There are different ways you can go about developing a vision statement, such as:

Take the Wheel

Create a steering committee to incorporate multiple points of view to create a well-rounded vision statement. Start with asking each member to develop their own statement, and then work towards each one questioning whether it will support your mission, inspire enthusiasm, and garner support from stakeholders.


If you’ve been caught up in the day-to-day stress that comes with running a company, it’s a good idea to host a board member retreat to encourage creative contributions. Retreats allow you to focus on addressing the organization’s critical issues, and the solutions you develop will help clarify your organization’s future direction.

The Big Picture

Retreats don’t have to focus on problems— they can be for goal-setting too. Use the time and creative space to establish major goals for your organization, and your organization’s big picture—and therefore your vision—may develop naturally.

Sweet Dreams

If a company retreat is not in the cards, allow yourself a mini-retreat with some much-needed solitude. Utilizing a stress-free environment can help you tap into your creative side and dedicate the necessary time to developing the organization’s vision. Dream big— bypass daily challenges and truly envision your “ideal” for the organization.

Next Steps


Developing your organization’s vision statement is a vital part of inspiring your employees and ensuring your nonprofit’s success. But once you are equipped with a vision statement, you must develop a strategic plan to achieve your vision. To develop a strategic plan, focus on the important issues and goals and keep the process simple—developing this plan is meant to help you, not overwhelm you.

Operationalize It

Now that you have a vision and a strategic plan, it’s time to operationalize it to see a positive change in your organization. Chose the best two-four goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and have a distinct timeline, and develop strategies to achieve them.  Assign roles to your team members, and get ready to see what 20/20 vision does for your nonprofit.

You want no effort wasted when running a nonprofit, and having a clear vision and sticking to it will give purpose to every step your organization takes. You can find a detailed look at these and other tips in my book, A Guide to Achieving New Heights: The Four Pillars of Successful Nonprofit Leadership.


DCM Associates specializes in executive search projects representing a wide variety of industries for national, regional, or local nonprofit organizations, including independent and higher education, healthcare, and community building and social impact organizations. Learn more about DCM Associates today and contact us to help format an effective vision for your nonprofit leadership.