By Doug Hattaway

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The advent of a new year can be a good time to review and renew your commitment to your aspirations—for yourself and the organization you serve. This post shares insights and ideas for connecting your cause to deeply held desires that drive people’s decisions and behaviors—and a checklist to see if your organization has what it needs to inspire your stakeholders. 

Kahlil Gibran’s words point to the motivating power of aspirations—deeply held desires that drive our decisions and behaviors. Motivational psychology shows that understanding our own, authentic aspirations is key to finding a sense of purpose in our personal lives. 

The same goes for organizations. Connecting your mission to the aspirations of your audiences can inspire people to contribute their time, talents, and resources to your cause. 

Our aspirations are our ideas about the kind of people we want to be. The kind of lives we want to live. The kind of world we want to live in. They’re usually expressed as desires for the future:

“I want a career that uses my talents and makes a difference.”
“I want to live in a neighborhood I’m proud to call home.”
“I’m trying to be more spiritual and help make peace in the world.”

Ideas like these are key to motivation and action, because they lead us to set goals and strive to achieve them. You can tap into them to power up marketing, management, movement-building, and more. 

Does your organization have what it takes?

Key steps to maximize motivation in support of your organization’s work are: 

1) understanding the authentic aspirations of your stakeholders

2) expressing those ideas in a powerful vision for the future, and 

3) setting goals that provide a clear path toward that destination.

Understanding Aspirations

Understanding the aspirations that motivate your stakeholders begins with the most important step in effective, strategic communication: Listening.

Asking simple questions can produce powerful insights. You can start with your inner circle and work out. You want to find the sweet spot where the aspirations of your team, investors, and current supporters connect with people who can contribute to your work but aren’t yet on board.

Audience research can help you unearth insights to attract new supporters, as explained in this Communications Network presentation with our client, the BMe Community—which used this approach to identify a potential audience of some 38 million people interested in supporting an ambitious agenda.

Check in: Does your organization understand the authentic aspirations of your stakeholders?

Creating a Vivid Vision

Studies show that people are motivated the most to achieve outcomes they can see in their mind’s eye. Inspiration begins with showing people what’s possible.

So it’s important to craft a vision statement that describes the future you’re working toward in vivid words, which evoke images in the mind. Words describing people, places, things, and actions engage multiple areas of the brain. This helps people wrap their minds around your vision, while creating emotional responses that can move them to take action.

For example, the Hattaway team helped Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health express an aspirational vision for an ambitious capital campaign to “bring together dedicated experts from every discipline to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that can transform the lives of people everywhere.”

This was a more vivid way to describe the school’s education and research functions, and tie them to a powerful aspiration shared by all of its stakeholders—to contribute to impact at a global level. The new messaging helped the school raise nearly $1 billion.

Check in: Does your organization have a vivid, inspiring vision?

Setting SMART Goals

The third step makes it reall: Setting goals that show people how you’re working to achieve the vision—and provide them meaningful opportunities to contribute to your success.

Stanford research found that people pursuing concrete “giving” goals felt a greater sense of satisfaction and happiness than people chasing more abstract goals. For example, a personal goal to “increase recycling” led to more action and satisfaction than “saving the environment.” 

Applying this to organizational goals, the study provides evidence that offering people opportunities to help you achieve specific, altruistic goals can be a powerful motivator. 

Our client Amanda Renteria, CEO of Code for America, led the organization in declaring a bold vision to make government work well for everyone—and set the audacious goal of unlocking $30 billion in federal funds to serve 13 million people. Her TEDTalk about expanding access to the social safety net brought the crowd to its feet. You can hear her thoughts on setting and achieving bold goals on our Achieve Great Things podcast

The Hattaway team leverages this insight to power up fundraising campaigns. We help organizations articulate interesting, inspiring, and specific goals that capture the imagination of potential donors. 

To set motivating goals for all kinds of outcomes, you can try out the SMART Goals framework. It helps you set goals with maximum motivating power, because they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. 

Check in: Are you motivating your stakeholders by setting and working toward meaningful goals?

If you’d like to learn more or explore solutions for your organization, please reach out to us: