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.