What makes you different from another institution? Why are there 5 different gardens? Why 8 different homeless shelters? Why 6 different animal welfare organizations?
What are YOU?
Can you answer that question without resorting to “we are not them?” A lot of things are not them. What are YOU?
If you can answer that question, then you can lead your institution, making decisions that affirm your identity, while discarding those that are at odds with who you are and aspire to be.
If your staff can answer that question, then your identity becomes implanted in the minds of your clients and stakeholders, because their every act reflects that conviction of who you are.
If your board can answer that question, then they can stand in front of legislators, funders, neighbors, and friends, and affirm your identity in the minds of your community.
This is who you are
It is this identity that you bring to the table when collaborating with your peers. In collaboration, you each bring resources and skills to the table. How do your peers see themselves? What is their identity? What do they bring to the table? How are you complementary?
It is this identity that colors your pitch when you talk to government officials, about how you and your peers can work together, knowing who will bring which skills and expertise, and why each of you are necessary.
You can see this at work in America’s Garden Capital. The Philadelphia area is considered America’s Garden Capital, with more than 30 public gardens, arboreta, and historic landscapes within 30 miles of the city. They’ve joined together to promote the region, while retaining their own unique identities. One promotes native plants; another has manicured French and English style formal gardens; another mixes outdoor sculpture with extensive grounds.
This is how you make decisions
With firm identities, they promote themselves individually and collectively, boosting their attendance. If an opportunity comes along that doesn’t match their identity, it is easier to reject the opportunity, and actively seek more suitable opportunities. If there are five conferences to which they could send their staff, they consider which ones are most congruent with furthering their mission – the decision is easier to make. If funds are limited, they consider which capital improvement supports their identity, and decide accordingly.
Understanding what defines your organization and what you stand for is a critical foundation for decision-making. It is part and parcel of manifesting your values and priorities in the direction and actions you take. It creates a unified understanding of who you are, across board, staff, constituents and community.
Affirming this identity is integral to a solid strategic planning framework.
What’s your identity?