Look carefully at every nonprofit you consider really successful. I bet they each have a clear vision they are working to achieve. And I bet it’s something impressive. Maybe they’re working to eliminate illiteracy in their community, or find homes for every homeless animal. Whatever their vision it’s something that people can easily imagine in their minds, understand the impact, and get behind.
It’s called a BHAG.
A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) goes beyond a nonprofit’s reason for existence. Your mission statement may express why the organization was created, but a big vision excites people with its big impact. I like to say ‘play big or go home!’ I mean, if a nonprofit exists, it should have as big an impact as possible. After all, what’s the point of working so hard if your organization it isn’t going to do something very worthwhile?
It doesn’t matter what kind of services you offer, a BHAG will set you apart from the mediocre nonprofits in town. Your nonprofit will be the one in your community that’s up to something special and attracts all the movers and shakers to serve on the Board and support fundraising campaigns. Your BHAG will make you different in the donors’ minds. Instead of being one of dozens of boring nonprofits, you’ll be the fresh, exciting one doing something that really matters.
A BHAG is a goal so bold that it stretches your nonprofit to work toward it and reach it. Your staff get excited about it and work together to make it happen. You may have to change the way you are doing some things to become more efficient or more effective. Your big vision should give you goosebumps when you talk about it with others. It may event scare you a little. And its impact will be profound and significant in the community, changing many lives.
Here are some specific reasons you should create and commit to a BHAG:
- A big vision attracts supporters. A BHAG is very interesting to donors. No one wants to support something mediocre. And people don’t want to get involved with something that even remotely looks like a sinking ship! Instead, donors love a group that is passionately championing a cause and changing the status quo. People like helping make something magical and wonderful happen, especially when it has long-lasting impact. When your BHAG sets peoples’ hearts on fire, they will give and likely give big gifts to help your big vision become a reality.
- A big vision creates the foundation for strategic and operational plans. One of my favorite stories is from “Alice in Wonderland” where Alice meets the Cheshire Cat and asks him for help. “Where do you want to go?” the Cat asks. “I don’t much care,” says Alice. “Then any road will get you there” responds the Cat. It’s the same thing with planning. Without a BHAG to shine a light on the destination you want to reach, it’s going to be tough to get there. You could wander aimlessly as an organization, dabbling in programs, helping a few people along the way, but never really having much of an impact. Your BHAG will provide the destination so that you can create the roadmap to get there. It sets the stage for the plans that are needed to fulfill the vision.
- A big vision shifts you from being reactive to being proactive. When you know very clearly where your nonprofit is heading and you create plans to get there, you know exactly what to do every day. Gone are the days when you spend your time putting out fires. A clear vision gives you a yardstick to measure your activities by. For example, if your BHAG is to eliminate hunger in your community, then you can look at each item on your “To Do” list and ask yourself “Does this get us closer to eliminating hunger?” If the answer is yes, you do the task. If not, mark it off your list because you don’t need to spend your time on it.
Your BHAG should be compelling. When you talk about it in the community, people should start asking lots of questions to better understand it (this usually indicates their interest in supporting it!). Your big vision should be easy to explain and easy to understand. You shouldn’t have to work hard to describe what you’re trying to do.
Most importantly, everyone in a leadership position in your organization, both staff and Board, should participate in creating the vision and supporting it. If you are missing consensus about your BHAG, go back and try again. You don’t want any bad apples pulling everyone else down while you’re working to achieve something of this importance.
Ready to create your BHAG? It’s not so hard to do. Gather up your nonprofit’s leaders and key people and think about the biggest thing you’d like to accomplish as an organization. Start by brainstorming a few ideas. Talk them over and choose one to work toward. Decide that you’re willing to commit to it and make it happen, knowing that it could take time and effort and money to accomplish. And then do whatever it takes to make it happen.
Your BHAG will get you moving on the path to becoming one of the hottest nonprofits in town!