Leading the Way with Purpose
28 November 2013 at 9:01 am
Finding and articulating purpose in a Not for Profit organisation is not so simple, says brand and communications consultant, Melissa Bertolini.
Purpose-built. Fit for purpose. Defeats the purpose. Serves a purpose. Multi-purpose.
Purpose is a part of our everyday vernacular and yet, for many organisations, it’s hugely under-utilized.
A deceptively simple concept when applied to an uncomplicated object such as, say, a hammer; when an organisation is challenged to define its own purpose, one might be met with blank stares… or worse, a link to the mission vision and values section of their website.
Because—and here lies the tricky part—purpose is more than words on a homepage, or a paragraph in the annual review, or a tagline, or a new logo.
Purpose, quite simply, is the reason an organisation exists. It doesn’t describe what it does, or how, or for whom—it forms part of its DNA; it captures the soul of the organisation.
However finding and articulating purpose is not so simple. It is not synthetic; it cannot be manufactured, made-up or post-rationalised. Purpose is found deep in the heart and roots of an organisation—it’s always there, it is just often hidden or muddled—a result of organisational Chinese-whispers.
But when purpose is found and well communicated, it becomes a powerful tool with a transformational effect.
Conversations about purpose often shift leadership beyond its traditional roles; towards discovery and mobilising others around what is meaningful and has impact.
Terri Soller is an independent consultant working in leadership and adaptive change, and says "through this work, leaders are often required to challenge their own and others assumptions, engage with all the voices (even the ones that don’t agree with them), collaborate across difference and at times disrupt the status quo”.
“Purposeful leadership,” Terri says "is an act of courage-getting and holding people’s attention in order for them to make a difference in their world.”
This courage is evident at Children’s Cancer Institute, which recently went through this mobilisation process.
Chief of Fundraising, Anne Johnston says the process “challenged us on how well our current brand positioning and creative treatment were really serving us, whether they reflected the fundamental “truth” about our mission and values—and that to do this effectively we needed greater clarity around our purpose.
Johnston said it helped the organisation to “understand that by developing a brand truly communicating this purpose; we would not only unify our organisation but also have a platform to raise our awareness in the community and engagement with our supporters.”
Through the process, Johnston said it was a matter of understanding what was most important and bringing that to the fore.
“At Children’s Cancer Institute Australia there was a core and universal belief in the importance of our work throughout the team, and an incredible track record of success with our research, but we had always struggled with the two opposing forces behind our identity.
“Firstly, that of a world-class research institute, and secondly, that of children's cancer charity. Understanding our purpose, and mobilising it to drive our brand and business is making an enormous difference in the way that we work, and how we tell our story.”
For Children’s Cancer Institute, purpose also proved its ability to rally the troops around something that really matters.
“Purpose has also improved cohesion within our organisation and across our stakeholders—from the researchers, to the fundraisers, to the Board Members—we are now all united behind one focus with an articulated brand purpose and creative treatment that will be a turning point in our future success,” Johnston said.
And when future success means the end of childhood cancer—that’s something we all want to stand behind.
About the author: Melissa Bertolini is the Managing Director of Purpose – an independent brand and communications Sydney-based consultancy working across each of the business sectors.