The Magic of a Great Mission Statement

by Priscilla Bratcher

I’ve been thinking about mission statements lately and it’s going to get worse before it’s all over. I’m usually on the consultant side of the process when working with nonprofit clients, which is very interesting. Prompting people to be clear, easy to remember and concise is interesting work. Now, I find myself on a volunteer committee working on a mission statement. A good lesson for consultant: it’s not really that easy.

First, let’s see what’s in the filing cabinet. Most organizations that have been around for a few years have one or more mission statements. Looking at old ones might give you a good starting point. But chances are, it is vague, forgettable and wordy, especially if it was created by a committee. It’s probably time to start again.

Many people have written many words about mission statements. Here are some of my favorite tips. I hope they help get the creative and strategic juices flowing. Have fun guessing whose mission statements I’ve included. I’ll give you the answers at the end of the post.

1. Don’t tell us what you do and call it a mission statement. Your fundamental purpose is not to do something, it’s to accomplish something. Try to imagine a point in time when you go out of business because self-perpetuation is not your mission. This statement envisions a time when the problem is solved.

To find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research

2. Dream big and inspire us with hope. State the issue your organization addresses and tell us not only how critical your work is but that it’s possible to achieve. Do you see the word in this one that give hope? I think it’s “lasting.”

To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger and social injustice

3. Edit, edit, edit. Can it be read with just one breath? In order to be memorable, you have to be brief, like this one.

The increase and diffusion of knowledge

4. Please avoid jargon and insider acronyms. We get so caught up in our own industries, that we forget that the potential board member, volunteer or donor will likely not know all the shortcuts we use in communicating with our colleagues every day. Share your draft with a friend or family member. If they get it, you’re on to something.

This one failed:

To bring a permanent end to LRA atrocities

This one succeeded:

Lifts the spirits of America’s troops and their families

5. My final tip is to share the clear, memorable and concise new mission statement with the world. Put it up in your building, put it on your website, your email signatures, your letterhead. Ask the board, staff and volunteers if they can repeat it. The more you repeat it, the more you will begin to live it every day.

I hope this has inspired you to dust off that old mission statement and take another crack at it. Researching and writing this post has certainly helped me be ready for the work ahead.

Share your mission statement with us. We’d love to see you become crystal clear about why your work is so important to our community.

Mission statements quoted above:

1. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

2. Oxfam

3. The Smithsonian

4. Invisible Children and the USO

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