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Thinking beyond year-end: what’s next for your mission?

What’s next?”

It’s an existential question that everyone asks themselves at some point in their lives. (OK fine, many points.)

What’s the next step for me in my career?

What’s the next move for our family? 

What’s the next hobby or skill I want to learn?

What’s the next show I’m going to watch after I finish binging [insert latest craze here]?

But this age-old question isn’t just a personal one. It’s also a question that many nonprofits are wrestling with as the summer comes to a close. It’s easy to find the answers to some of those “what’s next?” questions:

Maybe you need to get ready for your annual gala next.

Maybe you need to plan your year-end fundraising appeal next.

Maybe you need to update the content on your website next. 

Of course, all of these are worthy, wonderful, and important “nexts.” But they’re also very immediate, predictable, and tactical ones that you could likely rattle-off without skipping a beat. 

 

Ask the big questions

As we head into Pumpkin Spice Latte season and the end-of-year routine starts to set in, I invite you (and your team) not to get stuck only focusing on the “nexts” that seem to answer themselves—but to spend some genuine time thinking about how to respond to a different kind of “what’s next” question: 

What’s next for our mission?

I know. This one’s not as easy to answer. And that’s ok, because it’s not supposed to be. This one’s a biggie. You can’t find the answer on a calendar, to-do list, or even in a three-year strategic plan. But it’s the most important question you can ask because your entire reason for being depends on it—no pressure or anything.

 

Think deep 

When you ask what’s next for your mission, what you’re really asking is this:

  • Is the reason we started doing this work the same reason we’re doing it now? Have cultural, political, economic, social, judicial, or environmental circumstances changed? If yes, how might that also affect our priorities, motivations, or objectives? 
  • Are the individuals we’ve served in the past the same people who need our resources today? Have their challenges or needs evolved? When was the last time we stopped to ask them what kind of support they need the most?
  • Are the donors, volunteers, and advocates we’ve nurtured in the past the same ones who will help bring our organization into the future? Are there opportunities or communities we’re missing? Do we need to think about expanding our relevancy and reach?

There are infinitely more questions you could ask here, of course. They’re the type of uncomfortable yet critical questions we typically pose to organizations when we’re working together on a brand strategy or positioning project. They don’t always have the answers right away—which again, is OK—but in a sense, not knowing is an answer, too. It means there’s more digging and self-reflection to do.

 

Look at the big picture

Whether you’re able to work with an agency partner or not, asking “what’s next for your mission?” is still an incredibly important practice. 

It allows you the space to zoom out and see the big picture of your organization, your issue space, the communities you serve, and the communities you rely on for support.

It gives you permission to think beyond tactics and deadlines and have hard, deep, beautiful conversations about what really matters most.

Asking “what’s next for your mission?” might inspire team members who’ve never been part of these conversations to share bold new ideas outside your typical realm. Or it might force your leadership team to reassess some tried-and-true paths that may not be working as well anymore.

Part of the beauty of this big, scary, audacious question is that there are no right or wrong answers, and the courageous act of just asking it has the potential to surprise you.

So while you’re getting out your sweaters and carving your pumpkins this year, don’t just ask yourself and your team about what’s next for the holiday giving season. Ask “what’s next for your mission?” too.

Go deep. Think big. Start dreaming about what seemingly impossible things you want to accomplish. 

The tactics can come later. 

The dreaming, though…that’s where the magic really happens.

Remember your magic. 

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