Building a ‘Level Four’ Vision

At times, my life contradicts what I teach. I tell organizations that I work with that people need a vision – a Big Idea that their organization is attempting to reach.

When I was in high school, I never thought much of college. I was very involved with theater (as a stage manager) and didn’t feel that standard academics would help much in that line of work. While my grades weren’t poor, they certainly reflected that opinion. I ended up at an arts school in North Carolina and came to the realization that life as a stage manager, while slightly more predictable than life as an actress, was not the life I was seeking. However, I worked in the Foundation offices while there and had received some exposure to philanthropy and fundraising.

After returning to Winter Park, Florida, I signed up for classes at the community college. Five years later I graduated with a degree in social work (and was employed at a local healthcare foundation). Four years later I walked across the stage to receive a master’s in business administration. Since then I’ve toyed with the idea of going on for a PhD but haven’t yet taken any substantive steps in that direction. I did not, however, start with a vision in mind that I would go that far with my education. Thankfully I had a mom who continually encouraged me to take the next step. I suppose she was the ‘keeper of the vision’ when it came to my completing an advanced degree.

There’s a quote from Alice in Wonderland that I love: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

Vision, or knowing where you want to go, is essential for nonprofit organizations. Sometimes that vision might be carried by the founder, or by a charismatic executive director. But ideally, that vision is embraced by the organization as a whole.

The M. Casey Foundation has a fabulous free tool available on their website. If your organization wants to complete an Organizational Capacity Self-Assessment I highly recommend it. It’s a  tool you can use on your own (at times a self-assessment can be sufficient, but depending on your needs you may benefit from having a consultant complete an assessment with you).

The Capacity Assessment Tool from the M Casey Foundation includes Vision (and related Overarching Goals) under the Leadership Capacity section of the assessment. This is what much be achieved to reach the highest level (‘Level Four’) in these two categories:

  • Vision. “Clear, specific, and compelling understanding of what organization aspires to become or achieve; universally held within organization and consistently used to direct actions and set priorities.”
  • Overarching Goals. “Vision translated into clear, bold set of (up to three) goals that organization aims to achieve, with specific time frames and concrete measures for each goal; goals are universally known within organization and consistently used to direct actions and set priorities.”

It’s easy to get stuck in the day-to-day work, but if you’re not able to say that you are a ‘Level Four,’ I encourage you to take a step back and identify what it is that you are aiming to achieve.

Who should develop the vision for your organization? The simple answer is: whoever needs to have ownership of it for the organization to succeed. Board and key staff are essential, but your organization may have other key stakeholders who need to be part of the process.

Congratulations on taking this important step to becoming a ‘Level Four’ organization!


Building a ‘Level Four’ Vision — 3 Comments

  1. Great resources, Kirsten. Thanks for sharing those.

    And I’ll be interested to hear about your PhD pursuit. What is it they say, once you start talking about something, it becomes real.

  2. Kirsten,
    I think it’s just great that you recommended nonprofits consider a capacity self-assessment. And it is so helpful to have a benchmark against which organizations can set goals.
    I’ve worked with this particular tool with a few organizations. There are some others…free and for a cost. In using any of them, the conversation and not the tool is what matters most. As you said, it’s about vision. What do we aspire to? What capacity do we need to build at this stage of our development?
    If your readers would like, they can read more about the four capacities used in this tool via TCC