6 Horizons of Focus: A Nonprofit Use Case
6 Horizons of Focus: A Nonprofit Use Case

6 Horizons of Focus: A Nonprofit Use Case

05/29/2021 by Kathryn Puzzanghera
How Gina and Lucy used the 6 Horizons of Focus to get their new nonprofit Green Kids up and running smoothly and how you can too.

What are the horizons of focus? It’s a term that David Allen, of GTD fame, coined for differentiating the layers of goals that make up all of our lists for what we want to get done. Becoming a manager, starting your own business, or getting the printer fixed — these are all things you might want to accomplish, but you can’t create three projects for each of them and expect to get the same type of result. 

I’ve been using Getting Things Done for almost a decade and I’ve relied on its flexible framework to help me to plan, prioritize, and keep myself accountable.  Today, I’m going to walk you through the six horizons of focus, starting at the top and working down to the ground level, with an example from a fictional nonprofit so you can see how this type of thinking might be useful for you and your organization.

Horizon 5: Purpose and Principles

Horizon 5 is the highest level. This is where you consider the big picture. What do you want to do with your life? What is your purpose? What are your values? What are you trying to accomplish? 

If you don’t have answers to these questions, as an organization, as an employee, or generally as a person, your ability to tackle large goals and set accurate priorities is going to be limited. 

Meet Gina and Lucy, the co-founders of the nonprofit we’re going to follow along with today. Gina and Lucy want to change the world. They’re passionate about finding solutions that can end the climate crisis and fostering behavioral shifts in how we interact with our environment. They’re starting a nonprofit to help realize that dream. Gina wants to make sure they know where they’re going before they jump on the road. Together, they write out a mission statement. 

To encourage generational change, Gina and Lucy want their organization to ensure that every child is educated about environmental stewardship and healthy practices for sustainability. They decide their core values are sustainability, diversity, education, and innovation. This is the highest horizon and also the foundation that all their other decisions will be built and based upon. They name their fledgling organization Green Kids and are ready to move forward. 

Horizon 4: The 3 to 5 Year Vision 

This horizon is where you drill down and get clear on your vision for the years right ahead of you. As David Allen has pointed out, three to five years is about the length of time most people can reasonably create plans for. After that, there are simply too many unknowns to realistically be able to completely control where you’re going next. 

Who knows what sort of major event could change your plans? What sort of technology could transform the way your organization works? After all, who knew you were going to need to account for a global pandemic and the rapid proliferation of cloud video technologies? Will there be a new and better way to accomplish some of these goals in several years? Will you still want to execute the same mission? 

Putting together a longer-term vision is crucial for understanding where you want to be in a few years. Do you want to operate regionally or at a national level? Do you want to double your headcount? Is that feasible? 

Gina and Lucy know that, sadly, it might take a bit of time to reach every child in the world, so they lay out their vision for the next couple of years. How far can they realistically get? 

Gina and Lucy decide to focus on their own region to start with, with an intentional goal of ensuring they create a reusable model for their work long-term. They decide that in five years, they want to have a well-established network in New England for educating children, with a scalable model that’s ready to grow nationally and can be replicated by other organizations who share their vision.  

Horizon 3: The 1 to 2 Year Goals and Objectives 

Where do you see your job going? Where do you see the best places to focus on next for a high return on investment? What is on the roadmap to accomplish in the foreseeable future? 

On this horizon, we start to move from vision to goals. Understanding your role and your organization’s goals and how those might change in the next 1-2 years is vital for correctly prioritizing projects and ensuring that the 3-5 year vision becomes a reality.

Gina and Lucy decide to start with two major initiatives to focus on over the next year or two. They want to get interactive events running in Massachusetts and Rhode Island schools and they want to create a curriculum that individual teachers can utilize and bring into their classroom. Lucy is more outgoing and loves to network, so she’s going to run the event program. Gina has a Master’s in Public Policy and spent two years in Teach for America, she’s going to take over creating the curriculum. 

Horizon 2: Areas of Focus and Accountability 

What is your job currently? What are you responsible for? Most people have roughly three to seven major areas of responsibility. These vary by industry and job. 

When you know what you’re responsible for, you’ll also know what projects to create, and how to prioritize them or determine if they need to be deferred or delegated. Should you really be helping everyone troubleshoot Outlook when you’re the development director? Where would your time be best spent?

Since they are a small nonprofit and no one can have only one job, Lucy becomes the CEO and head of marketing and development. Gina becomes the CFO, the COO, and the Salesforce Admin — because Gina and Lucy know that spreadsheets aren’t scalable if you want to save the world!

At the end of their first year, they may be able to hire another staff person so they can narrow their focus, but for now, they’re Jills of all trades.  As part of their major programmatic initiatives, Gina knows she’s accountable for the curriculum and Lucy knows she’s responsible for setting up those initial awareness events. 

These roles will drive the projects they take on and help them know which ones to leave to the side. 

Horizon 1: Projects 

Now we arrive at Projects. These are the cornerstone of the GTD methodology. Everyone should have a project list: a list of all the items they’ve committed to finish that require more than one action step. 

Most of us have way more projects currently underway than we’re aware of.  Grocery shopping might not seem like a project, but do you have the list? Where are the coupons? Who is going to watch your daughter while you go so that you don’t leave the store with fifty cupcakes and a jumbo bag of marshmallows that just appeared in your cart? As we’ve discussed on our Arkus blog before, defining your projects is a crucial part of being organized. If you don’t know what you need to get done, how are you going to do it? 

Gina and Lucy each sit down and identify their projects and make a list — and then they put it in OmniFocus so they won’t forget!

Some of Lucy’s projects: Get setup with Mailchimp for marketing, reach out to a local elementary school for their first event, setup a donation page so they can keep doing this important work, create a community for teachers to start building a network, setup a website

Some of Gina’s projects: Setup Quickbooks, find an affordable place for their organization to rent, put together a curriculum for elementary students, put together a curriculum for high school students 

Ground Level: Actions

Actions are the things you’re actually doing in service to your goals. Have you called and made an appointment with your neurologist? Have you read that new documentation? Have you talked to your sisters about Mother’s Day? Have you emailed your boss back? Have you picked up your prescription? Have you filed that stack of documents? Have you written that rough draft of your blog post?

Gina is excited about their new organization, and now that she and Lucy are fully aligned on their visions and goals, she can’t wait to start actually doing the work. She starts outlining action items for her elementary curricula project. Her next action: research previous curricula that’s been created. Other items she writes down because she knows they’re coming up: recruit a few teachers on Facebook for a beta testing group, contract with a copywriter and graphic designer, create an outline for the curricula, and set up a meeting with an education content specialist who wants to help.

Wrapping it All Together

Horizons of FocusSo there they are, the six horizons of focus.  By working through them, Green Kids is ready to start making a difference.  How can you use these for your organization? If you’re working with defining yours for the first time, take some time to go through each horizon and document what yours are for that level. Once you’ve set them, it’s best practice to make sure you revisit these horizons on a regular basis. 

I like to make sure I check in on every horizon at least once a year, and much more regularly for the lower three. I hope this framework might be a useful tool for your organization to think through how you can make your vision a reality.

What’s on your horizon? Let me know in Salesforce Trailblazer Community or chat with me @KPuzzanghera. Subscribe to the Arkus newsletter to get our top posts in your inbox each month.