In his recent posts, Billy Shore has shared a few critical lessons learned from Share Our Strength’s prosperous growth. He highlighted that imagination and an articulation of an organization’s strategy to achieve real outcomes are essentially pre-requisites to transformational change. Billy argues that organizations will not sustain, grow or achieve significant social impact until they (1) think big about the world they want to see and (2) define the best role they can play in creating it.
But understanding you need to “think big” is one thing, and having a clear path that supports doing so is another. What does it mean to imagine big goals? How do I know what impact my organization can really achieve? What if my organization is too small to think big?
Many organizations – big AND small – can benefit from a process of better envisioning and defining the impact they want to achieve – or their “impact agenda.” Community Wealth Partners recently worked with a small state-based child advocacy organization to do just that.
The organization’s original vision – to “create a culture” that values and nurtures the potential of the state’s youngest children – was not providing them with an inspirational goal or a solid picture of the role they should play. Amidst obstacles to obtaining needed legislative and financial support, this organization, comprised of a staff of 3 and a budget of $350,000, was at a crossroads in terms of understanding its purpose and programs. It was time to step back – and think big.
Towards this end, the team at Community Wealth Partners led this ambitious team of three through five critical steps:
- Identifying the broad social problem that the organization was setting out to address. It was quickly clear that this social problem had less to do with creating any kind of “culture” than it did real outcomes for children’s health and welfare;
- Devising a compelling vision inspired by this social problem;
- Unveiling, in an iterative “peel back the onion” manner, all of the root causes of that social problem. This helped the staff begin to define their own role in achieving their vision;
- Honing in on the single cause that the organization felt they were best positioned to make an impact on based on a set of criteria including the need in the community and existing organizational assets that could be leveraged to target that cause; and
- Establishing the most critical short and long-term indicators so that they are able to measure whether or not they are successful and adjust accordingly.
In adopting this process and in shifting their thinking toward large, meaningful outcomes, the staff of three unlocked tremendous potential to improve the health and well-being of children across their state. Their strategies, operations and programs will all flow – and grow – from there. To realize their impact, their next step will be to think boldly about a sustainable business model that will drive toward achieving their vision.
You don’t have to be a national organization with a budget of tens of millions of dollars like Share our Strength to approach your work in “think big” terms. The essence of thinking big is imagining a bold vision for the outcomes your organization wants to see and ultimately a path to getting there.
Accomplishing this can mean that small organizations achieve outsized impact on the communities they serve. Imagine that!