When you realize the effect a women’s philanthropy program will have on your organization’s ability to create a bigger impact, you will be eager to get started. But such an endeavor can feel overwhelming. You may look blankly at your screen and think, “Where do I start?”

The answer? Create and declare a clear vision of your desired outcomes.

The enigmatic Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland understood the importance of this critical first step. My favorite quote from the book:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?,” asked Alice “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where–” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. “–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation. “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Integrating women across your fundraising processes is not an all or nothing act; you can start from where you are today by taking small steps. But, you want to take the right steps, the ones that will carry you efficiently and effectively toward your goal of increased giving and impact – rather than just “somewhere.” To avoid that dreaded “somewhere,” you must define a “there.”

Declaring a Clear Vision is a Powerful Tool

Declaring a clear vision is a potent organizing practice for individuals, teams and organizations. From the Strozzi Institute on Embodied Leadership:

We create the future through language. When we make a declaration, we make a commitment to a future space of possibility. Until we distinguish this future possibility in language, there is no such future to move toward, there are no actions to take to fulfill on the declaration, and others cannot help us fulfill on our declared goals. Of course, life unfolds and moves forward, regardless of whether we speak a vision of the future or not. But if we are in the game of choosing and creating our life, the declaration sets a direction and galvanizes our intention, much like a compass bearing sets a course and guides us to a specific destination. 

History shows us the truth of this statement. For example, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared to Congress, “I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” To do such a thing, in so short a time, seemed unimaginable. Yet, only eight years later, the crew of Apollo 11 walked on the moon and returned safely home. Achieving President Kennedy’s vision advanced our country and the world in science, technology and engineering. Creating a vision of a compelling future is powerful and brings forward change.

“But We Just Want To Raise Money…”

This lofty example might make one shrink back and say: “We just want to raise more money.” But we know the power of a strong, specific vision for fundraising too. In 2007, sisters Swanee Hunt and Helen LaKelly Hunt declared that in three years, one hundred women would commit to a gift of $1 million or more. They achieved that goal in less than three years, and the powerful nonprofit, Women Moving Millions, was born. Imagining a future state in detail is compelling – not just to one person, but to many. Just creating and articulating the imagined future begins to move us forward, and it draws others into that vision. Imagining as an active practice is, in fact, the beginning of change. It is the seed of transformation.

I experienced the value of a bold vision for a development team when I was leading fundraising at the American Red Cross. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, two billion dollars in donations came to the Red Cross in just four months – a volume we had never experienced. Our acknowledgement team became backlogged immediately on donor thank-you letters. Letters began going out two and three months late. After analyzing the situation, the team came up with the declaration that accurate, personalized thank-you letters would go out two weeks after the gift arrived. This was an audacious commitment when the backlog was still growing hourly. Yet they achieved it within a month. That commitment brought forward new systems and partnerships that had not been in place before. The bank lock-box reports, the data downloads, the requests and expectations of front-line fundraisers and the review and signature processes all changed. Not only did the team meet its goal for Katrina donors, but the whole team then operated differently within itself and across all fundraising efforts for future acknowledgements.

Create Your Own Compelling Vision

Change is hard. We need a compelling reason to pull us forward into new behaviors, conversations, actions and processes. Creating and declaring a vision for your women’s philanthropy efforts will increase the likelihood of creating sustainable change in your organization. It will be the compass to guide you toward your desired end state, a benchmark against which to evaluate next actions and a way to expand your sense of the possible.

So where to begin? An effective vision will result from a team effort, grounded in a diversity of perspectives within your organization. The most powerful visions incorporate what we know about the present state – organizational values and strengths, quantitative giving data, qualitative feedback from women stakeholders, and your team’s personal experiences and “aha” moments – to imagine a new future of greater impact. Your vision will be both bold and specific, both audacious and achievable. Where will your compelling vision take you?

You can learn more about creating a compelling vision for your team, and how other organizations have used this exercise, in my new book Gender Matters: A Guide to Growing Women’s Philanthropy, available now.

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