Organizations that can articulate defining moments in time can successfully attract and engage the right people.
Defining Moments
January 22, 2013

500,000,000 years of history,
50 years of excellence,
One defining moment 
These words formed the theme of the 50th Anniversary Campaign of the Museum of the Rockies, home to one of the largest collection of dinosaur fossils in the world.  The campaign showed signs of success, but they were falling short of their goals. The museum contracted with me to assist them in refining their strategies, and I provided the following analysis.

A 50th anniversary, their stellar programs, or even 500,000,000 years of history was not creating a compelling enough reason for people to give.  The key, instead, lay in the phrase “one defining moment”.  The word “moment,” conveyed timelessness and importance.  We talked about moments when we might have fallen in love, discovered our life’s purpose, or experienced particular success or failure, and the feelings they elicited.  Although years may have passed, the stories could be recalled instantly. 
Articulating defining moments turned the client’s biggest challenge. They struggled to identify a defining moment of the campaign or why a donor should care about what the museum offered. I helped them communicate precise events from stories they shared. These moments provided increased opportunities to engage supporters and convey a sense of urgency, passion and action.
Organizations that can articulate defining moments in time can successfully attract and engage the right people – be they employees, volunteers, donors, or clients.  They can elicit what I call the “goosebump factor”, which warms the heart and compels action.  The Grameen Foundation offers a great example through its vision statement:
We envision a world where the poor have broken the generational chain of poverty and lead lives of respect, dignity and opportunity.
Whenever I read this statement to a group of people, there is a collective downshift from the head to the heart, and folks understand the change this organization wants to make in the world.  Moreover, they are called to action, whether it’s “how can I help?” to “that’s not for me.”  At least they know where they stand.
I am working with several clients who want to create a strategic vision.  In order to get them there, I will be asking a few questions –

  • How will your community and the world be better in 25 years because of your organization’s work?
  • Why do you devote your time and energy to your organization?  How does it contribute to your personal vision and passion?
  • What is the defining moment that compelled you to work at or volunteer at your organization?
  • As a perspective employee, volunteer, donor or client, why should I care about your organization?
Big-picture feeling (vs. thinking) brings about compelling, moving and goose-bump-producing stories that will engage others and motivate them to take action.  When organizations get confused about where they want to go or why they do what they do, I ask them to take a step back and dive into these questions.  What they surface can provide a means to connect on a personal and interpersonal level with defining moments that help each of us find purpose, identify actions and instill hope for a more integrated and aligned future.


Elemental Partners cultivates healthy and prosperous organizations through clarity of purpose, alignment of principles, and integration of systems.

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Kevin and Andrea will be facilitating a series of strategic planning sessions with KCTS9 in Seattle on January 22 and February 6.

Kevin will be on faculty with the California HealthCare Foundation fellowship in Sacramento on January 24.

Kevin and Puanani will be participating in an advisory meeting with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Albuquerque on March 7-10.

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