A 7-point plan for aligning your vision with your mission, strategies and goals.
Your Vision is what you all hope your NGO could be like in the future.
The Mission of your NGO is the guiding principles and values that should make you different from other NGOs in the same field.
Your Strategy is how you put your Vision and Mission into practice and they should be clearly expressed in the kind of projects and programmes you run.
The needs and viewpoint of your Stakeholders / Beneficiaries need to be kept central in all this.
If your projects are to be appropriate, successful and efficient your NGO must have good Capacity.
Are you clear about…
your goals, values and ethos?
the field in which you are building your specialism?
what approach you are taking, whether advocacy or implementation?
how to go about making a recognisable profile for your name?
Are you building up…
- your professional capacity?
- partnerships with other groups?
- your professionalism?
A good example of where you need to be professional is in your handling of money. If you do the job properly you will also show yourself to be transparent – since anyone can see how you are spending the money – and accountable – since if money goes missing then it will be noticed and someone will have to take the blame.
- structures and ways of acting which are transparent, accountable and democratic?
Here is a formula to follow:
CAPACITY-BUILDING + PARTNERSHIP-BUILDING = POWER
Are you building a relationship with your beneficiary group/stakeholders which has good will and respect on both sides?
Can you adopt a single objective? (Because one objective is easier to achieve than many.)
Do you live in a country with a strong civil society?
This means that there are enough NGOs and Associations to form a big mass – big enough to be listened to and mediate between government and people. An example of a country with a strong civil society is Senegal.
Are you developing a clear and sensible policy on gender?
If no thought is given, then women will be under-represented in the group that makes decisions, and the needs of both sexes among the beneficiaries will not be thought through.
Were your workers and your stakeholders/beneficiaries involved when the NGO vision, strategies, principles etc. were developed?
To involve them now would involve a period of discussion, during which each individual and group has a chance to argue and brainstorm.
The way in which vision, mission and strategies flow one from the other and then lead to projects is very clear in the following example.
Community Initiatives Support Services (CISS) is an organisation registered in the republic of Kenya as a development agency. It operates in Western Kenya. It was started by a group of professionals and practitioners in community health and development in 1979.
OUR VISION: CISS operations are based on the organisation's vision, which is “a healthy and just society”. To reach such a society, there are many things that could be done. Within CISS, we narrowed it down so as to identify…
OUR MISSION: “to build and strengthen sustainable individual family, institutional and community initiatives for health and development through partnership at all levels”. To do this we had to find…
STRATEGIES: These are broad-based and limited in number. CISS formulated two such strategies, one of which is “organisational development and management”.
GOALS had to be found within each strategy. One of the goals, closest to the strategy given above, is “to promote sustainable organisational and resource development”.
PROJECTS then have to be planned and carried out to attain these goals. One such project has been The Organisation Capacity Building Project: which reviewed the vision, mission and goals of the organisation with the board members, associates and staff of CISS and mapped out the responsibilities of each group, within a time-frame of 3 months The strategy used for the review was training and experience-sharing. (Clearly, other projects would use other strategies).
About the words used here…
Please note that different organisations use words a little differently. For example when some NGOs talk about the long-term, most encompassing point to aim at, they call it their "goal", not their "vision". In addition, words like "goals" are used at different points in this whole planning process.
But this is not so important. What is vital is that every project has its place in a logical plan that the NGO workers know and have agreed to. And this plan is clear enough so that outsiders can understand it.
It is very important that your NGO chooses good strategies. Another way of stating a strategy would be to say, “The main thrust of our work will be…”
So strategies are practical, and you will only be able to manage a few, e.g.
“One strategy is to ensure that after five years, in this very poor community, each family will have one member who can earn money”.
“As an environmental NGO, one of our strategies is to protect the existing trees and soil by building sustainable cooking fuel techniques into the community (by tree-planting, solar cookers, improved stoves, etc.)".
We all know small NGOs with great commitment, who work hard, but whose projects and activities are not part of any sensible strategy… and are, in the end, a waste of time.
An NGO in Asia was trying to help families on the edge of survival. Most of their energy went into providing a school. The children came out of the school able to read, but not equipped to earn an income. The families stayed poor. If the NGO had adopted the strategy “To ensure that one member of each family can earn a living” they might have made better progress.
Good strategies have to be based on a good understanding of all the actors, potentials, limitations, needs, problems, leadership structure, etc.
We suggest the use of SWOT exercises (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). A SWOT involves an organisation setting aside a few days, finding a good workshop leader and working in smaller and larger groups.
» The SWOT process is described in more detail in the article "Problemsolving: SWOTs & Strategic Plans".
If you choose the SWOT approach as a way of identifying strategies, you might want to invite one or two outsiders with good analytical skills and a good understanding of the role of an NGO (senior people from another, successful NGO might be the right choice).
After brainstorming a number of possibilities, you could then narrow them down: you prioritise the few that are most important and also identify the core problem(s) which underly everything else – perhaps landlessness, displacement, poverty. Then comes the brainstorm on strategies:
What would each achieve?
Would they really meet the problem?
Which strategies would build on the strengths of the NGO?
if your people want to concentrate on income generation, do you have staff with experience, with an understanding of markets, profit margins and how money works?
If the expertise of the NGO is running crèches and none of you can do simple sums, then to concentrate on income generation would be to build on your weaknesses, not on your strengths.
Part of this process of identifying goals, strategies etc. is recognising the principles held within the NGO, which most people subscribe to but do not normally discuss very much.
Maybe your workers believe that "all people deserve respect and a living wage" or perhaps "if you are born well off, you have to give something back". These are fine principles.
At the level of the NGO there may be a strong principle that its workings should always be transparent. Sometimes this principle is adopted as a strategy, and systematic action is taken to ensure it. Sometimes the principle is put on one side – ”We will tackle transparency next year, after we have made progress with other strategies” – but it does not go away. Principles do not go away. (Strategies, however, can be replaced when they have served their purpose.)
Another principle of the NGO might be friendliness towards the environment. Another, we would hope, is the principle of inclusivity – that all the people with a say in an NGO, whether bosses, cleaners or those who get help, should feel included and have a way to make their opinion heard. No one should be silenced because of their ethnic group, because they are disabled, too old, too poor, or female. Many NGOs have started to translate this principle into something real by looking at gender.
Is there a clear line that joins your Vision to your Mission, then runs through your strategies, and then comes out clearly in your Projects?
Do the leaders of your NGO have good skills – did they, for example, use strategic planning when beginning the projects? Do they keep the needs and viewpoints of your stakeholders/beneficiaries central In planning and implementation? Do they know how to monitor and evaluate?
Are gender issues well incorporated into the NGO?
Is there a clear plan for keeping the NGO and its projects sustainable?