As we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, his famous “I have a dream” speech rings in our ears. In 1963, as he stood at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, his dream seemed impossible to many.
And yet, he clearly believed in his goals. He spent the next five years of his short life strategically working toward the accomplishment of his inspiring vision.
Nonprofits can learn from Dr. King’s approach to his aspirations. It all starts with a big dream. Jim Collins and Jerry Pourras call it a “big hairy audacious goal.” Your dream must be lofty, seemingly beyond reach. Your nonprofit must feel passionately about its vision; people must be bubbling over with enthusiasm to reach higher and further than ever before.
As a new year begins, we naturally think of new beginnings and grand possibilities for our work. This is the perfect time for your nonprofit to get in touch with its dream and to make plans to bring it to fruition.
>>Start at the End, not the Beginning.
As each year draws to a close, I encourage organizations look back over the past months and make a list of their accomplishments. Most nonprofits are so focused on projects lying ahead that they forget to reflect on their successes. Yet, acknowledging triumphs can energize the team to surge ahead in the New Year with renewed vigor. I’m not suggesting a formal strategic plan at this point, although that is always critical to long-term success. I’m just proposing a simple reflective process—the secret to replenishing your momentum. Here’s how this simple, effective five-step process works.
>> Gather Your Team.
Don’t do this alone. Others on your team will benefit from this vital process, too. Invite board members, staff members, or volunteers to an informal gathering—better yet invite them all. A cross section of stakeholders always produces a wider scope of ideas and builds a more cohesive team. Create a welcoming atmosphere by serving a beverage and snacks—and maybe play a little upbeat background music. Start by asking each person to describe what draws him or her to the organization’s mission—a powerful way of helping team members get in touch with their deep commitment to your mission. Try using Simon Sinek’s Start With Why approach to get folks connected to their inner passion for their involvement in your mission.
>> Review The Year.
Ask everyone to brainstorm a list of all the organization’s accomplishments over the past year—big ones and little ones. Remember the main rule of brainstorming: there are no bad ideas. Let occasional silence encourage timid ones to speak up. You may be surprised at the long list you create. Now make a list of any lessons learned—what would you have done differently. What has this past year taught you? You will want these points of learning to bring benefit to you in the coming year.
>> Celebrate Together.
Now it’s time to celebrate your successes. Don’t forget that lessons learned are successes, too. Make your official “celebration list.” Assign a theme for the past year and choose something to represent the theme. One organization proclaimed it their year of “building our foundation” because they finished reviewing and revising all their governing documents, refurbishing their board membership, and restructuring their committees. They gave each person a small ceramic brick to symbolize their theme and to remind everyone to celebrate their accomplishments. Review this celebration list at the next staff meeting and at the next board meeting. Watch as it reenergizes everyone.
>> Set Your Intentions.
Pull out your organization’s goals and review the progress made. Simply acknowledging your positive movement forward will give everyone a sense of accomplishment. Next, peek into the future. Look at each goal individually and list all actions necessary to complete it. Identify the gap between where you are today and where you want to be. Ascertain who needs to do what by when and then create a simple matrix clarifying roles, responsibilities and timelines. Create a plan to hold each person accountable for assigned tasks. Some organizations use an outside consultant to help shepherd the goals through to completion. If there are goals that never seem to be accomplished, identify potential obstacles and make plans to remove the barriers. Some goals may need to be changed—they made sense at the time you created them but no longer serve the organization.
>> Conduct an Annual Review.
At the end of the year, I also like to review all organizational documents to identify any that need revision or updates. Look at documents like bylaws, strategic plan, emergency response plan, financial policies, board handbook, board evaluation tool, ethics and conflict of interest statements, confidentiality statement, succession plan, safety plan, compensation and benefit structure, insurance and contracts, and committee structure. Prioritize these documents according to their need for modification and schedule them on a calendar for revision. Decide which revised documents will be presented at your annual meeting for approval.
Get Ready for an Energizing Year.
The secret of this process is a cross section of organizational stakeholders reminding themselves of all they have accomplished in the past year, revisiting their beloved mission, and clarifying their intentions for the coming year. This simple practice will reinvigorate your team and focus their energy on greater triumphs for the coming year.