Rob Sheehan Strategy

Creating Vision in an Ever-Changing World

“ Some people see things as they are and say ‘why.’ I dream things that never were and say ‘why not.’” (George Bernard Shaw) Most people and organizations do not dream.They rarely take the time to ask themselves “What do we really care about?” “What are our aspirations?” Instead, they look at the ever-changing world around them and try to figure out how to adapt themselves to it most effectively. I believe in the power of dreams.This is why I recommend that organizations create visions for their future using an Aspirational Mindset – a “healthy disregard for the impossible” – that explains what their organization would look like if they could have it any way they wanted it, with no constraints. The problem we too often face is the expectation that we can simply forecast the future environment in which our organization will exist.This is folly. Change today is much too rapid and chaotic. And trying to predict the future is much less important than first doing the soul-searching work to discern your aspirations. Another excellent George Bernard Shaw quote comes to mind: “The reasonable person adapts themselves to the world. The unreasonable one persists in adapting the world to themselves. Therefore, all progress is due to the efforts of the unreasonable person.” So, rather than trying to forecast the future and planning to adapt to it, we need to decide what kind of organization we want to be and create the circumstances we need to make it happen. We need bold visions for the future. Vision plays many important roles in an organization. One of those is that it inspires

wanted to have some ideas about the direction we wanted to go in for the future. So, one morning I am reviewing the results from a volunteer phone-a-thon from the night before, I saw a note that said Mr. Howard Kleinoeder had made a $1,000 pledge and that he wanted to talk with someone about making a bequest. I phoned him and he reiterated his interest and added “You shouldn’t wait too long. My health is not so good.” In my wisdom, I made an appointment with him right then and scheduled my flight. Mr. Kleinoeder lived on a thoroughbred horse farm in Florida. Other than that, I knew he was a member of our Fraternity at the University of Washington in the 1930s and that he had only recently started making gifts to the Educational Foundation. I didn’t know much more about him. I met Mr. Kleinoeder at his home. I started the conversation by thanking him for his previous gifts and updating him on some of the things that we were doing. After we talked for a while he said something to me like “How much money do you fellas need anyway? You just raised a million dollars.” “That’s true, Howard,” I said, “But that was just the beginning. Some of our leaders got together recently and came up with a list of programs we need that will require an additional $15 million in endowment.” I went on to describe some of the programs we had on the drawing board and how they would make a difference for our students. He didn’t jump up and cheer at the ideas or anything, but he seemed satisfied that we had some good ideas we were working on.

people to work toward a common future. It can also inspire donors – especially major donor prospects – to help fund these big dreams.My first experience with the power of this Aspirational Mindset approach occurred quite by accident – thirty years ago. Here’s the background for the story: My first experience as the CEO of a nonprofit was in 1981-90 when I served as CEO of Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity and the Alpha Sigma Phi Educational Foundation. I inherited an endowment fundraising campaign that was having a difficult time. By 1985, after a lot of hard work, by a lot of people, we eventually raised $1.1 million. This was a lot of money for an organization which had never known a true endowment previously. During the next year we realized that we needed to plan more for the future.We didn’t know much about strategic planning, but we stumbled onto an Aspirational Visioning exercise. We thought it would be helpful to bring in various leaders and stakeholders for a weekend of brainstorming to get creative about what new programs we should create in the future. By the end of the weekend we had come up with a great set of ideas for new programs. Once we put price tags on them, they came to about $750,000 in additional annual costs -- requiring at least an additional $15 million to endow them. We didn’t plan to start a new campaign again soon, but we

38 I Nonprofit Professional Performance Magazine

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