Displaying items by tag: vision

I Can't Do without My GPS!

And if you're a nonprofit leader, neither can you.

by Mark Vermilion, Save the Storksunnamed 4

I use the GPS app on my iPhone a lot. Last year, I traveled 200 days and went to 24 different states to consult with pregnancy centers and other nonprofit ministries, so I greatly depend on my GPS app to help me get around new places.

A couple of months ago, I was traveling in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to facilitate a strategic-planning retreat for a client. As I was leaving Denver, I entered the address of the retreat center I was traveling to into my iPhone GPS device and set out for my mountain destination.

But about an hour into my journey, something unexpected happened. (It shouldn't have been unexpected, but it was.) I lost my cell-phone signal for nearly 30 minutes. And along with it, I lost my GPS system's ability to track my location.

I was lost.

At that moment, I realized, more than ever, just how much I depend on GPS to guide me from where I am to where I want to go.

I did eventually manage to get to the retreat center, but I wasted a lot of time traveling off course until I finally found a gas station where I could regain my bearings and figure out where I was. The gas station owner then pulled out a tattered, "old school" Atlas (from 1998) and wrote down directions on the back of an old invoice to get me from where I was to where I wanted to go.

That gas station attendant saved me a lot of wasted time and frustration—and helped me get to my destination on time. Barely.

Organizational GPS

A number of years ago, I realized that all organizations need a GPS system to help them get from where they are to where they want to go. That's when I developed what I call an Organizational GPS.

I designed it to help organizations that were lost and driving in circles to regain their bearings and figure out where they're going and how to get there.

In a sense, I've been helping organizations like that gas station owner helped me that day in the Rocky Mountains.

Think about it for a moment. What are the two basic requirements needed to use the GPS device in your car or on your smartphone?

First, your device needs to be able to track where you are—your current position.

And second, you need to know where you're going, and you need to enter the destination into your device.

Once your GPS device knows where you are and where you're going, it (theoretically) will give you a step-by-step plan for how to get there. A roadmap.

I say "theoretically" because I've found that my iPhone app doesn't always give me the right direction that I'm looking for. I have a love-hate relationship with SIRI!

Like travelers, all organizations need a GPS process to guide them—one that operates just like the GPS device you use.

First, the organization needs to know it's current location—where it is. That requires a robust assessment tool that helps the organization honestly identify its strengths and weaknesses, among other important identifiers.

Second, the organization needs to know its destination—where it's going. That requires a creative process that helps the organization identify its God-given vision.

And third, once you've identified your current location and your destination, you can put together a roadmap—a strategic plan—to help you get from where you are to where you want to go. That requires a proven strategic-planning process and template that the organization uses to develop a plan.

And once the organization has a plan, it must implement it—and not set it on a shelf to collect dust.

I've learned a lot of things in more than two decades of working with nonprofits, and here's one of the biggest: It's hard work to go through a planning process. Still, it's a lot easier to plan the work than it is to work the plan.

Tweet this! It's a lot easier to plan the work than it is to work the plan.

GPS for Pregnancy Centers

More than a year ago, I began working with Save the Storks to develop a PRC consulting service that we've named StorkWorks Consulting. It applies the Organizational GPS System I developed specifically to PRCs. While many of the issues that PRCs face are common to all nonprofit organizations, some aren't. So we've tweaked the Organizational GPS System to allow us to specifically address the issues common to those who are on the front lines of the pro-life movement.

In my work with PRCs over the past year, I've found that many are struggling with one, two, or all three of the "GPS components" that are needed for organizations to thrive.

First, some organizations don't have a clear sense of where they are. They haven't done an honest, rigorous assessment process in a long time—some never have. When you don't have an understanding of where you are, your leaders have no sense of how to lead. They feel lost—just like I did that day in the Rocky Mountains when I didn't know where I was in relationship to where I wanted to go.

I don't know about you, but when I get lost, I get frustrated. Maybe your leadership team feels frustrated, too. For good reason. They don't have a clear sense of where they are.

Maybe a vague sense. But not a clear sense.

"The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality."
-Max de Pree

Second, some PRCs don't have a clear, articulated, unifying vision. They don't know where they're going. As a result, they have no compelling message to share with donors, volunteers, and other ministry partners that will motivate them to join their work. Likewise, decision makers have no sense of destiny that allows them to make current decisions.

They end up going in circles or even backtracking. At best, they go in a direction that will have to be altered later—when they realize they're arriving someplace they don't want to be!

"Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision
is just passing the time. Vision with action can change the world."
-Joel Barker

Third, some don't have a clearly articulated strategic plan that takes them from where they are to where they want to go. And if they do, it's not always accurately informed by a clear sense of the organization's current position or desired destination.

"What we do today will determine what happens to us tomorrow.
Each day we take steps either toward or away from the destination we desire."
-Andy Stanley

Many PRCs operate from a vague understanding of all three GPS components. And the results can include frustration, inefficiency, lack of unity, lack of resources, and lack of impact.

The most tragic result is that their critical, God-given mission—their reason for existing—isn't being accomplished nearly as much as it could be.

I would encourage you to incorporate some form of all three GPS components in your organization: an assessment tool, a vision-clarifying process, and a strategic-plan template.

And once you have all three in place, I encourage you to use them to guide you into a high-impact, mission-accomplishing future.


Hear more from Mark at his workshop during the 2015 Heartbeat International Annual Conference, April 7-10! He and Joe Baker, also on the Save the Storks team, will be presenting "Visioneering: The Power to Inspire, Increase, and Fuel" in the Advancing Leaders track, so don't miss out on learning how to establish a vision and give your Organizational GPS a destination.

Mark Vermilion is the Co-Founder and Lead Consultant of StorkWorks Consulting, a PRC consulting service of Save the Storks, Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is also the CEO of Amplify 360, Lexington, Kentucky, a high-impact firm that increases (amplifies!) the reach and impact of ministry organizations all over the U.S. He has served on faculty with Taylor University, Indiana Wesleyan University, and Asbury University. He lives in the Lexington, Kentucky area with his wife, Katrina, and their five children.

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Shelf Help: The Circle Maker

In The Circle Maker, author Mark Batterson draws out wonderful insights gleaned from the true legend of the circle maker.

The main character in the true story was a man named Honi, who lived during the first century B.C., and boldly prayed a prayer that brought an end to a long-standing drought, renewing hope for the Jewish people.

This well-told story encourages readers to dream big and pray persistently.

Here’s a line from the book to whet your appetite:

Drawing prayer circles around our dreams isn’t just a mechanism whereby we accomplish great things for God. It’s a mechanism whereby God accomplishes great things in us.

I found this book both delightful and inspirational, and I’m confident you will too!

To find out more, including ordering information, click here.

Book review by Betty McDowell, Director of Ministry Services

Does Your Center Invest in the Mission-Critical?


by Kirk Walden, Publisher of The LifeTrends Connection

The discussion Ellen Foell initiates elsewhere in On the Leaderboard is an important one for all of us because it reminds us of the fact that in a sense, many pregnancy help organizations (probably the vast majority) are likely unknowing participants in The Overhead Myth.

For most non-profits in our sector, we look closely at those administrative and development costs, wary of going over a certain percentage of our overall expenditures. Is the number 20%? Is it 15%?

Regardless, we try hard to avoid giving the perception that we are spending a large portion of our income on non-client related services such as fundraising, salaries and staff who are not directly connected to our clientele.

There is a good reason for this. Stories of non-profits and ministries that have abused the public trust by shoveling outrageous amounts into the hands of the organizations’ leaders, spending large portions of money simply to get more income (while leaving behind those who the organization is designed to serve) abound.

As a result, foundations to which we are writing grants, and major donors, tend to look closely at our administrative expenditures. And with the web, in the last ten years many more who are considering giving to us can quickly look at our 990 forms and may make a funding decision based at least partly on these figures.

The fact is, while most pregnancy help agency boards have never considered “The Overhead Myth” or sat down and asked “How much is too much” for our administrative and fundraising costs—we are all wary of going over the line with these expenditures.

The bottom line is, we do not want to be perceived as wasting our donors’ hard-earned gifts.

Under Investing ≠ Overly Wise

To all of us in this movement, we must be wise stewards of every dollar that comes into our organizations. But . . . if we get caught up in fretting over percentages and perceptions, we could miss God’s best for our centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies.

The fact is, it costs money—big money for many of our organizations—to send our entire staff and board across the country for an event such as Heartbeat International's Institute for Center Effectiveness this Dec. 9-13 in Columbus, Ohio. And if we do, much of that expense will fall under “administrative” costs.

It also costs money to bring in that consultant or trainer to upgrade our development plan, to implement a powerful event or to walk us through the steps necessary to better connect with and envision those who partner with us financially. This one falls under fundraising.

For some of our organizations, the two “expenses” listed above might cause us to recoil a bit because we ask, “What about the clients we see? Can’t we spend that money on them instead of on us?”

And this is where we find the trap. We begin to see dollars spent as “expenses” and worry about whether our donors would appreciate their money going toward a trip to Columbus for our director. Or, we fret over spending money just to raise more . . . money.

If we fall into this trap, we can miss the big picture. A wise board and staff understands that every dollar spent should ultimately be an investment in our clients—whether it falls on the 990 form as “Administrative,” “Fundraising,” “Services” or anywhere else.

Stretching Your Donor Dollar by Investing in Leadership

An investment of in-depth training for board and staff should, in the end, provide a powerful return for our clients with more effective services, a larger vision for the impact we have on their lives and more.

Why? If we are investing in training our board, this group is better equipped to lead the ministry through future changes and growth. If we are investing in our staff (let’s remember salaries at this point, too) we have less turnover, more consistency in service and stronger bonding among team members.

By the same token, an investment in our development/fundraising practices should provide a return in a greater ability to reach and serve our clientele.
While we need to watch our administrative and fundraising investments, an over-emphasis on percentages can be to our detriment. The questions we ask regarding these figures should be about the ultimate impact on clients’ lives, not about whether our 990 form might look odd or because our perception among donors is at risk.

My hope is that soon, we can look those who support us in the eye and say, “YES, we spent this amount on administrative costs, and on fundraising we stepped up our investments as well. Here are the reasons why, and here are the amazing results in the lives of our clients.”

Should we be watching our fundraising and administrative costs? Just like any other investment in our organization, the answer is an unequivocal “Yes.”

Should we then, be shackled by traditional “rules,” such as the idea that no more than 15 or 20% of our expenditures should fall under administrative and fundraising? While we all need wisdom in this, the answer is “Probably not.” Best practices in fact, may encourage us toward breaking such rules at times in order to ultimately best serve those who come in our door.

Kirk Walden is publisher of The LifeTrends Connection, a monthly e-newsletter geared to help pregnancy help leaders set, evaluate, meet, and enhance fundraising and development goals. Subscription to The LifeTrends Connection is an automatic benefit of affiliation with Heartbeat International. Kirk is also author of a recently released book, The Wall: Rebuilding a Culture of LIFE in America and Ending Abortion as we Know it.


A Lofty Vision in a World Made of Dirt

Balance scales of justice

by Jay Hobbs, Communications Assistant

As your pregnancy organization’s board meets to craft this year’s budget, take a moment to give the room a silent once-over.

Are you looking at a gaggle of starry-eyed dreamers or a collection of bone-dry bean-counters? What if you could tip the scales… to the middle?

You see, two kinds of people need to be involved in the budgeting process. You want your organization’s budget to reflect a sort of modest ambition—a reasonable approach that still has the ability to stretch your organization and its mission. A budget that reflects wisdom and reliance upon the leading of God’s Spirit.

As valuable as starry-eyed dreamers are—the rest of us are happy to have you aboard!—these visionaries often need reigned in a bit by faithful, brass-tacks bean-counters who are best-geared to convert a vision to a reality by executing a plan and process from Point A to Point B.

A board full of visionaries may have an ever-increasing treasure trove of great ideas and lofty budgeting goals, but at some point, these ideas need evaluated, vetted, and implemented by folks with calculators, spreadsheets, and bank statements.

On the other hand, a board comprised of bean-counters will lack the kind of ambition your organization needs in order to truly grow and take those “next steps” visionaries are so very fond of.

Peter F. Drucker, who Business Week once heralded as “the man who invented management, had the following to say in his book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and Principles:

The people who work within these industries or public services know that there are basic flaws. But they are almost forced to ignore them and to concentrate instead on patching here, improving there, fighting the fire or caulking that crack. They are thus unable to take the innovation seriously, let alone to try to compete with it. They do not, as a rule, even notice it until it has grown so big as to encroach on their industry or service, by which time it has become irreversible. In the meantime, the innovators have the field to themselves.”

So, we ask again… Who is sitting at your board table?

Who is missing?


What does true success look like?

by Jor-El Godsey, Vice President

Before you break out the mission statement, ministry tag-line or branded sound-bite, let’s look past today’s pundits’ and consultants’ definition of success.

Let’s see what the “Owner’s Manual” has to say about success. After all, if we are a Christian ministry, or simply Christians ministering, we should understand what the Bible has to say about success.

The New International Version has only a couple dozen occurrences of the word “success” (a few dozen more if we add “successor,” “successive,” etc.), and all of them are in the Old Testament.

When success is the subject of the verse, we see two distinct patterns. First, success is something that comes from the Lord, like Nehemiah 2:20: “I answered them by saying, ‘The God of heaven will give us success...’” Second, success is a reward for partnering/cooperating with the Lord, like we find in 2 Chronicles 26:5b: “As long as [King Uzziah] sought the LORD, God gave him success.”

Notice also that success noted in the examples above can be both corporate (“give us”) and individual (“gave him”). And again, success is noted as a gift from the Lord.
Although the New Testament has no direct references to “success,” there are two themes that seem to indicate success among believers. These two, like the Old Testament references, are indicative of working and receiving from God.

1. Faithfulness. In 1 Corinthians 4:2, the Apostle Paul explains, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” Our Lord asks us to be full of faith, particularly faith He will accomplish what He desires, both in and through us.

2. Fruitfulness. In the Gospel of John (15:8), Jesus states, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” Fruit, ostensibly good fruit, is also an indicator of our relationship to God and our faith in Him. We were created for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10) that bring glory to Him and advance His kingdom (in our hearts and elsewhere).

So, in our work today, success is more than any “outcome” (that word only shows up once... in The Message) related to our mission. Positive outcomes are excellent and to be celebrated as one measure of success. But as both ministers and ministries, our success must include faithfulness to the mission—even in the face of opposition—and fruitfulness where we count the victories of those who embrace life, and life everlasting.

As you take stock of the year just past, look back a little further. Rick Warren says we “overestimate what we can accomplish in a day, and yet underestimate what we can do in a decade.”

Look back over the last decade (or more) as a minister and a ministry, and celebrate the success of faithfulness and fruitfulness.

Can I get that in Writing?

by Ellen Foell, Heartbeat International Legal Counsel

Your vision statement can, and should, serve as a north star, a guide to your center for all decisions and activities.

You should be able to communicate your organization’s raison d'être (reason for existence) to the most uninitiated passerby simply by quoting your vision statement.

To quote Heartbeat International’s GOVERN Well: Your Personal Board Member Manual:

The board should be committed to a vision that can be described as “what the world/our community will look like” when our mission is accomplished, when our overall goal is reached. (Section II, G-1)

Although crafting the vision statement can seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t need to be. A board seeking to craft a vision statement, or retool an existing statement, may want to consider the following suggestions:

1. Describe the organization’s purpose. The purpose should be described in one or two reader-friendly, jargon-free sentences. People outside your organization should be able to understand and appreciate your purpose by simply reading your vision statement.

2. Describe the population the organization will serve. For example, most pregnancy help centers serve women and children. However, some centers’ scope of service also includes everyone affected by unplanned pregnancies. In describing the targeted population, be brief, but comprehensive. 

Example: “A community where true reproductive health care, based on the dignity of the person made in the image of God, and God’s plan for our sexuality, transcends death centered health care for women and their families.”

3. Describe the activities in which the organization will participate. Keep this description simple and short. You don’t need to list every service your center offers. A board should try to write this part of the vision statement in two sentences or less.

Example: “A community where every child has a chance to be born healthy and to be placed in the arms of a mother and father equipped in every way to provide a Christian home.”

4. Outline the organization's values. This part of the statement outlines the values that led to the center’s formation and the values partners, board, employees, and volunteers will exhibit while working towards the organization’s goals. Words like “true,” “dignity of the person,” and “image of God” all convey that the sanctity of life is a core value at the following center.

Example: “A community where true reproductive health care, based on the dignity of the person made in the image of God, and God’s plan for our sexuality, transcends death centered health care for women and their families.”

5. Describe what the organization wishes to accomplish. Answer the question, “What success looks like? In looking at the housing ministry’s statement we used above, it’s clear that, for this ministry, every child will be born healthy and placed in a Christian home:

Example: “A community where every child has a chance to be born healthy and to be placed in the arms of a mother and father equipped in every way to provide a Christian home.”

An organization’s vision statement speaks volumes about the board, the staff, and those associated with the organization. A good vision statement also pulls in those who previously had no connection with you.

Is it time to take a fresh look at your vision statement?

How's Your Vision?

by Ellen Foell, Heartbeat International Legal Counsel

Every year, I take my children to have their vision checked.

One of my daughters has exceptionally poor vision, especially for an athlete. It was not always poor. When she first started to play soccer, she was quite a force to be reckoned with. But as time went on, her amount of almost-but-not-quite goals mysteriously began to pile up. The mystery was solved, however, when I took her to an annual vision appointment and found out—sure enough—her vision had deteriorated to 20/300.

The problem was simple: She couldn’t see the goal.

What about you? As a leader who sets the course for the center, how good is your vision? Has it deteriorated over time? How do you, as a leader—a forward, if you will—keep the vision alive and clear enough to hit the mark accurately?

Let’s take a page from a leader’s playbook. That leader is Caleb, one of the twelve spies sent into the Promised Land, and one of only two who lived to enter it. God describes Caleb in Numbers 14:24 as someone who “has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly,” and because of that, God promised to bring him back one day as a full-time resident.

It would be 40 years from the time he first laid eyes on this land that flowed with milk and honey to the time Caleb would finally cross the Jordan for good.

Forty years. That is a long time to wait for fulfillment of a promise. It was long enough for Caleb to see every single one of his peers grow old and die in the wilderness while the consequences of Israel’s unbelief took its toll.

How easy would it have been for Caleb to have lost sight of his vision? How easy to simply forget how beautiful that first glance was.

Yet, 45 years after he first saw the land, the last five of which had been spent conquering it, Caleb declared: 

Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said. (Joshua 14:10-12)

This old man had energy. He had passion. Caleb had vitality. He was not daunted by his age, by time, or by difficult experiences. What is it that kept his passion, energy and focus alive for 40 years? I believe it was Caleb’s vision.

Caleb’s vision was big. He had a grand vision for something that was not yet in his or Israel’s possession. The Promised Land was exactly that…it was promised. It was the land that God had promised to Moses at the Burning Bush, the same land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob so many generations before.

But the land was not yet in their physical possession. Faith was still involved. Trusting in the promise of God was still required.

Forty-five years before, Moses dispatched a band of 12 spies on a reconnaissance mission to the land of Caanan. When they returned after 40 days, they had all seen the same things, but 10 of the spies’ reports were so clouded and marred by fear that they brought a “bad report” about the land.

Convinced that God was able to do what He’d promised, Caleb reported what he’d seen: a land flowing with milk and honey; inhabitants who would be easily conquered; clusters of grapes so large that he and the other spies needed a pole to carry them on. Caleb now had a vision for something that was so grand and so beautiful that he could not—and did not—forget it. Simply put, what Caleb saw amazed him.

For the next 40 years, as the Israelites wandered in the desert, craving water at times, meat at other times, Caleb listened to their whining and the complaining. He witnessed the rebellion of Korah, watching the earth swallow up Korah’s entire family. Caleb saw the plague of fiery serpents go out from the word of God among the people of Israel. He saw and participated in many battles, some victories and defeats.

Even as he and Joshua—the other faithful spy—witnessed every person of their generation die in the wilderness, Caleb kept the vision before him.

You too have a vision for your center. Are you able to remember it? Does it ignite your passion today as much as it did on the first day it was articulated? If not, ask yourself three questions:

1. Is your vision still big? Is your vision as grand as the day you first saw it? Is the vision still bigger than you? In their 1994 book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, James Collins and Jerry Porras introduced the term, “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG). The BHAG is a vision that, even internally, seems impossible to achieve, yet excites and ignites people to action.

2. Are you continuing to move forward to see the vision through? Election results, financial floundering, staff issues, or personal hurdles need to be overcome. Are you willing to overcome them? Consider Caleb, who kept pressing forward with the vision, despite all odds, despite all obstacles.

3. Are you trusting God to do what He promises? Caleb knew he couldn’t go into the Promised Land and take it based on his own strength. Instead, he says, “the LORD helping me” (Joshua 14:12). Caleb knew that only through God could he and the people drive out the enemies and take the hill country. 

No leader can rely on personal passion, strength, energy, and clarity alone to see a truly inspiring vision fulfilled. God alone can, and will, fulfill His promise through a willing, passionate, focused, and humble leader who actively nurtures and fuels his or her vision.

Forging a God-Sized Vision

final logo

by Jor-El Godsey, Heartbeat International Vice President 

Both the Old and New Testaments declare the importance of vision. In his first sermon (Acts 2) the Apostle Peter quotes the Word of the Lord to the Old Testament prophet Joel, “That I will pour forth of my spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams...”

Notice, Joel uses “vision” in the plural. The Lord inspires many visions—both corporate and individual. Jehovah inspired the nation of Israel (corporate) and the call of the prophet (individual). Jesus gave the apostles a vision for the work of the church (corporate) He was birthing, and also a vision for those who would lead it (individuals).

Visions are God-sized. Almost by definition, a vision should be so expansive, even audacious, that it will take more than just you to accomplish. Want a quick way to test your vision? Ask yourself if it’s something you can fulfill on your own. If it is, it’s not big enough to be God-sized!

A vision must be something that draws us in, while drawing many others—even partnering organizations—because the goal is, well, so visionary!

Once we understand the vision the Lord is calling us to, we must be sure to write it down. Again, our guide in this is an Old Testament prophet: “Then the Lord answered and said, ‘Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run.’” (Habakkuk 2:2).

Forging the vision into a statement is a spiritual and practical exercise that will serve to guide today and into the future. A vision should be captured in key organizational documents, to inspire and frame efforts moving forward.

Be careful that your Vision Statement does not describe your vision for your organization (strong, healthy, more offices, a medical clinic, an abstinence program, etc.). Rather, it is your vision for the world/community that you live in, or for life change of the members of that community. Because your community does not now look like your vision, there is definitely a need for the work God has called you and your organization to do!

God-sized vision inspires God-sized provision to see that vision realized. Sometimes, the vision is so big we can’t imagine it fulfilled in our lifetime. Our friends, Joel and Habakkuk, experienced this, but stayed faithful to their call.

Our legacy will include how well we inspired others to this God-sized task.