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How to Power Your Purpose

“Purpose without a plan is simply hope.  And hope is not a strategy.”

Purpose-Driven Organizations 

As a society we collectively face a myriad of social and environmental challenges. It is no surprise then, that workers and employers alike are trying to understand their place in engaging with and solving these challenges. Younger members of the workforce, in particular, are increasingly likely to seek organizations with purpose and employers that share their values. At Trepwise we focus exclusively on purpose-driven clients — organizations that have an aspiration beyond financial return and are working, in their own way, towards building a thriving and equitable community. Whether you are part of a non-profit, foundation, or a company building out a social mission, clarity of purpose is one of the most powerful tools available to you: driving employee retention and engagement, and providing a common framework for decision-making across everything from partnerships to budgeting to organizational design. 

The Importance of Planning

But purpose alone does not guarantee impact. Combining clarity of purpose with a clear planning process ensures that organizations can move from a set of aspirational ideas to a set of actions that unlock their potential and bring these aspirations to life. After all, purpose without a plan is simply hope.  And hope is not a strategy. 

While planning is important for any organization, it is especially important for those managing multiple goals and outcomes beyond just financial return, as they have a more complicated set of factors to consider. Many purpose-organizations, particularly those who have grown organically over time, suffer from mission creep – the addition of programs or initiatives that are outside of the original organizational focus and have the potential to be a drain on organizational time and resources. Planning can address this common issue, either by streamlining programming to adhere to the original mission, or by expanding the organization’s mandate to better rationalize new interventions. 

A clear plan can help your organization stay disciplined and focused on how to achieve your purpose most effectively, making sure your efforts and resources are mission-aligned.

How to Plan for Your Purpose 

So how should you think about your future as a purpose-driven organization? And what does planning actually look like? 

Step 1: Start with Listening 

While leaders should always have an eye on financial sustainability and performance, we have found that the secret to unlocking organizational potential is centering humanity and starting with culture. That’s why we always recommend  planning by listening to people and understanding their needs and perspectives. For purpose-driven organizations this means spending time engaging across your key stakeholder groups – with team members, the community you serve, funders, and volunteers. Up-front listening and engagement builds support, fosters collaboration, and ensures that the organization remains responsive to community needs.

Step 2: Look at your Mission, Vision & Values  

Once you’ve heard perspectives on organizational performance and status, we recommend circling back to your purpose. That typically lives in your organization’s vision, mission, values. This overview from the NH Center for Nonprofits is a pretty good overview for those unfamiliar with MVV and how they differ. Organizations may enter planning processes with a different relationship to their purpose. Sometimes it’s very clear and the mission, vision and values just need to be ratified or slightly refreshed. Other times you need to reimagine your purpose, rewriting your core statements in collaboration with key advisors and stakeholders. Regardless, it is essential you are clear on why you exist before you start identifying your long-term strategies. 

Step 3: Understand Your Model

Once you understand the change you want to see in the world — be it a reduction in emissions, an improvement in healthcare outcomes, or a cultivated community support model for a vulnerable population — then comes the hard part: designing or refining your funding and delivery model. Many organizations are dependent on a particular funding and delivery model. Are you a provider for a large government program? Are you mobilizing grassroots individuals and donors around a cause? Are you delivering a service for a fee? It is essential to understand your model, how it impacts your delivery, and the alternative models that are available to you, because this introduces the key planning concept of constraints and choices. 

Step 4: Anticipate Risks and Build Contingencies 

Strategic planning is a prime opportunity for leaders to anticipate potential changes, adapt to new circumstances, and stay relevant in addressing audience needs. A plan should assess the risks baked into the model you are operating under — on funding, service delivery, and team effectiveness — and make a plan to navigate those potential challenges and uncertainties. Consider upcoming political shifts and how they may impact regulations, or how supply of a key part of your program, be it materials or a particular needed skill among staff, may impact your ability to scale or even maintain delivery in the future. It’s not helpful to list every potential calamity, but highlighting the most relevant risks can help you build good strategies. 

Step 5: Determine Strategic Shifts

Purpose driven organizations often have limited resources. Effective planning helps organizations prioritize initiatives and allocate resources (financial, human, and time) efficiently, maximizing their impact in line with their mission. If you need to evolve your model planning is the best time to determine it. Even if your model is well-aligned with your goals, every organization can benefit from identifying a few key strategies to pursue to make the organization more effective and adaptive. One common area we’ve seen organizations continue to build their practices around is how they document and store their internal documents and information. Each of these pieces may seem small, but they can make a big difference long-term. 

Step 6: Set Your Goals & KPIs 

Once you have a clear idea of some of your priorities, make sure to establish a measurement system to know if you’re making progress against them. We often use the framework of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) tied to programs, initiatives and internal organizational health. Regularly looking back at your progress against these KPIs has a myriad of benefits, allowing you to monitor progress and identify areas for improvement while also demonstrating accountability to partners, donors, and the community. 

Step 7: Build a fundable asset – Once you’ve got a clear sense of your strategy, we recommend embedding it into a document with a compelling narrative that weaves together your purpose with your future plans. This final document, often a designed powerpoint or report, should be something that can be shared with potential funders and partners, to orient them to your aspirations, and attract investment and collaboration in the areas you outline. Some parts of the plan are just for you and your team – and those can be pulled out and put into an internal-facing document that you revisit on a quarterly and annual basis. But if you go to the trouble of making a strategic plan it’s worth building it into a fundable asset.

When Plan and Purpose Come Together 

Being purpose-driven is not only a matter of ethical responsibility but also a strategic advantage for organizations. Strategic planning is a fundamental and essential process for organizations to chart a course for success, effectively utilize resources, and adapt to a changing landscape. It enhances organizational effectiveness, accountability, and the ability to make a positive impact on the communities and causes they serve.

Having hope is important – it’s a good starting place.  But hope alone is not a strategy.  Bringing the purpose to life requires a focused plan. As we kick off 2024, let us help you build that plan that will marry your purpose to a big impact.  

Get in contact with our team to learn about how planning may be beneficial to your organization!