Invoking the Magic of Universal Visions

Creating an exciting shared vision that says something important about an association is one of the toughest tasks volunteer leaders have. They can grow anxious or frustrated searching for that elusive statement until all the uttered near-misses magically hit upon exactly the right words to say it all.

The American Association of Anatomists found this magic in a September strategic planning retreat after living with a vision born out of a tangled attempt to literally define what anatomy is. Like most scientific fields today, anatomy’s diversity is astonishing. The new vision evokes what people experience when they study and research anatomy: Inspiring scientific curiosity and discovery

This new vision sets a perfect context for the plan’s goals. One new goal is aimed at building on anatomy’s strengths as an accessible science that provides structure and language to other sciences to lead in science communication. Another strives for diversity and inclusion. The AAA vision could serve as the ultimate metric for all the goals—did this work increase scientific curiosity and discovery in anatomy and well beyond into other sciences and society?

Sometimes boards will resist a vision because they fear it can be claimed by many other organizations. The AAA vision is like that, but so are the best visions I have seen association leaders craft. Visions speak in a language of universal aspiration that invites others to join in this important work.

Consider another personal favorite vision of mine, developed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2016. To stimulate a world of generosity and positive social good through fundraising best practice.  AFP leaders talked much about the role of fundraising professionals as agents of social change in crafting this vision. The first part of the vision could speak for many successful philanthropic organizations; adding through fundraising best practices affirms AFP’s particular role among these organizations in achieving this vision.

Another personal favorite is the vision the American Physical Therapy Association adopted in 2013. Transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience. APTA wanted to affirm the power of physical therapy to transform society through what physical therapy does best-- optimizing movement.  The words explaining why are to improve the human experience. I am told that the stories people shared of how PT improves the human experience were key to persuading the APTA House of Delegates to approve this vision statement. As APTA now promotes PT as a viable alternative to the nation's opioid crisis, I applaud this initiative to improve the human experience for thousands of people trapped in a living hell. 

When visions speak a universal language of invitation, they encourage us to be curious about why an organization would make such a profound promise to the world. They touch us emotionally in some shared human experience. And they remind us we all have a stake in what this organization wants to accomplish. When association leaders find a way to express all that in a few carefully chosen words, it is a truly magical moment for them and us.