Want to survive the crisis? Stop describing what you do, start defining why you do it…
Now isn’t the time for ‘whataboutery’. We might only be in the eye of the Covid storm with months or years of upheaval to come.
We all need tangible survival plans. What practical steps will we take to ensure we’re still here in two years’ time, let alone 20 years?
In formulating these plans we’ve, ironically, got the ideal opportunity to reflect on our purpose in the world.
We should we asking: Why do we exist? Why is the survival of our organisation important? What would be lost if we didn’t survive? Who do we exist for? What do we exist to do?
Sitting at the top of most ‘Forward Plans’, ‘Business Plans’ or ‘Strategic Plans’ will be some formulation of your organisation’s purpose.
But I challenge you to reflect: do you actually use this as your north star? Does it actually dictate what you do and what you don’t do? Do you even remember exactly what it says?
All too often these statements of purpose are paragraphs not sentences. They mix up vision and mission. And all too often they are statements of what we do – a celebration of the organisation – rather than why we do it.
As non-profits, you don’t need to exist to line the pockets of the board. You exist because you believe in something. This is why we believe your statement of purpose is best articulated as a cause.
One reason organisations struggle to define their purpose is because they pile too many ideas together. We think it’s best to break down your purpose into the following:
Therefore, defining your cause becomes a Theory of Change logic equation. And each component is deliberately short and memorable.
Defining your cause might seem a long way from helping to keep on top of rocketing energy bills or informing your management restructure.
But defining why you exist can dictate your actions on a macro and micro scale. Your cause doesn’t sit at the top of your Forward Plan as a flowery piece of copy, it sits at the top of Forward Plan as the determining factor of all future activity – in particular what you choose not to do.
Defining your cause is the first but important step towards future-proofing your organisations. See this related article on structuring strategy around your cause.
This has culminated in our role in the excellent Future-proof Museums programme for the Arts Marketing Association.
Along the way we’ve helped the People’s History Museum, Museum of the Home and Manchester Jewish Museum to define their purpose.
We’ve carried on our mission with the AMA as co-trainers on related courses such as the ‘21st Century Visitor Attractions’ programme, as commissioned by Museum Development East Midlands, working with brilliant museums such as Mansfield Museum and Framework Knitters Museum.