Strategic Visioning: The Time to Think Big Is Now

06/03/2021 11:21 AM | Elizabeth Duffrin

By Amy Schiffman, ACN Member 

Last month, I sat screen to screen (on my sixth Zoom of the day) with my Evolve Giving Group colleagues, talking about how many of our nonprofit clients feel “stuck.” That feeling is the result of a pandemic that has forced them to rethink their plans and strategies and yet, at the same time, made it difficult to plan.  We thought hard about how to help nonprofits think differently about possibilities and opportunities, and developed a process we call visioning.

Visioning is more creative and comprehensive than a revision to your vision statement. It is the precursor to every strategic plan, feasibility study, and every large-scale campaign. It enables organizations and groups to agree on compelling goals, breakthrough strategies, and aligned action.

An organization’s strategic visionwhich is summarized in its vision statementis an overarching set of goals, without the roadmap to get there (that comes later). It tells stakeholders, staff, and donors “where we’re going” and “what we hope to achieve.” Nonprofits with clear strategic visions are the ones that inspire donors, unify stakeholders, and raise substantial amounts of money.

Here are 4 signs it’s time to engage in strategic visioning:

  1. Your work looks wildly different than it did 1.5 years ago.
  2. You’re questioning whether a particular project or set of programs really fits into your organization’s bigger picture.
  3. Making decisions about how to move forward has become increasingly difficult for staff and board members.
  4. The constant change and shifting gears over the past year has left your team feeling burnt out, misaligned, and confusedand you’re not sure how to get back on track.

If you relate to one or more of these statements, it’s likely you’re ready to define your strategic vision. I suggest you start with an exercise that engages a small group of stakeholders who are ready and willing to think “big” about your organization’s future. This exercise helps jump start the visioning process and stimulate brainstorming:


The group forms two concentric circles facing each other. One third of the group joins the inner circle and the remaining two-thirds join the outer circle. The group then forms trios with one person from the center circle and two people from the outer circle.


Each person in the trio has two minutes to complete the sentence “It is (choose a date in the future - like June 15, 2023) and it has been a great year…” This person should speak as if it is currently that date and share organizational accomplishments, current programs or operations, challenges, and achievements. After six minutes, each person in the trio will have had their turn and the inner circle can rotate so that each person joins a new trio and the group completes three rounds.


At the end of the activity, spend some time debriefing with your final group and assign a note taker. I suggest asking questions such as:

  • How did your vision change with each round?
  •  What did you hear from others that inspired or excited you?
  •   Did you hear any consistency or alignment around future hopes and goals?

The ideas that come out of this exercise can form the foundation of an organizational vision. If you are interested in learning more about strategic visioning, please reach out, and if you try this exercise with your team, let me know how it goes!

Amy Schiffman is president and CEO of Evolve Giving Group. She and her rock star team can be found at so feel free to reach out with comments or questions.

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