“All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year.” – Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire everyone to Take Action.”

The author’s encouragement about the importance of knowing why we do what we do has been on my mind as we enter the final months of the school year and the last quarter of the fiscal year at the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

The EFSC team members are engaged in a flurry of activity, checking lists to reconfirm that things are in order to close one chapter and open the next.

We easily could lose sight of WHY as we become enveloped by time-sensitive tasks that require focusing on what, when and how. But it is essential to keep our compass pointed at the North Star—our organization’s WHY—as our primary purpose.

Getting distracted from WHY by a series of required tasks is something that can happen in families, private sector corporations and nonprofit organizations.

The concern about falling into that habit is that when we lose sight of WHY, our passion starts to fade. Our work and our lives no longer feel inspired and can start to feel mundane. WHY stems from our values, passions and aspirations. We can’t motivate or lead others if we lose enjoyment and fulfillment in WHY we get up every day and do what we do.

My thoughts are inspired by a convergence of incidents. In studying relatable aspects of leadership in my Leadership Florida class, I have been reminded about Sinek’s insights in “Start with Why,” in which he writes about the importance of keeping focused on the desired outcome of our activities.

At the same time, we are developing and creating the EFSC’s blueprint for the future. It has been an extensive, exhaustive and worthwhile effort and we have gained invaluable input that has helped us to affirm and clarify our organization’s WHY.

Asking WHY is a critical-thinking exercise that anyone can employ from time to time to nudge ourselves to answer questions such as those Sinek poses: “Why do we get up every day?” “Why does it matter?” “Why should anyone care about our organization?”

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman said: “No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.”

The power of WHY for us at the EFSC is illuminated and affirmed in stories of students. While we could sum up WHY by saying we get up every day and help support over 43,000 students, a large number easily can become a statistic and abstract sea of faces.

In coming weeks, several STRIVE award students will be telling their own stories about why and how they overcame challenges to stay on track and graduate from high school. The EFSC has the privilege of presenting their STRIVE awards but the students and our organization recogni ze that it was due to the support of many organizations and individuals that believed in and lifted them up that the students were able to reach their goal.

These students are not just a component of an abstract enrollment number. They are individual students who represent our WHY.

They are WHY we open Student Success Centers in high schools, fund classroom and schoolwide grants, and work with volunteers to develop a mentoring program. They are WHY we come together with partnering organizations, such as the Local College Access Network, to magnify our work and help more students.

Periodically asking WHY can help all of us stay focused on the thing that inspires us and, in turn, motivates and inspires those around us and keeps what we do aligned with our values and beliefs.

Do you know your WHY?