The mission statement of your nonprofit isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, simply some flowery words meant to make readers feel good when they see it on your website. A well-thought-out mission statement should be a beacon to help guide organizational decision-making, set goals and inspire benefactors and members.
If you do not have a mission statement, now is the time to gather members and craft one. If your mission statement was written long ago, consider taking a fresh look at it and see if it is still serving your institution well.
Features of a Powerful Mission/Vision Statement
Many organizations combine their mission and vision into one combined statement to set the core guiding principles and direct them into the future. A great mission/vision statement does several things:
It identifies your values. What is most important to your organization? Inclusion? Equality? Justice? Compassion? The mission statement should make your core values clear.
It defines your audience. Do you serve preschool-aged children? Homeless adults with mental disabilities? Recent refugees? Your mission statement should make it clear who you serve.
It outlines your scope of activity. Are you all about education and outreach? Do you focus on advocacy? Do promote volunteerism? Do you gather and distribute tangible goods? Your mission statement should make it clear what your organization primarily does.
It highlights your vision. Your mission statement isn’t the place to set concrete goals like, “We will raise at least $100,000 per year to donate to our local homeless shelter.” You want your mission to be a vision for what you want to achieve without being so specific that you’ll be forced to change it if the goals set were too ambitious and not met. Something like, “We are committed to improving the capacity and quality of temporary housing available to homeless adults in XYZ County,” would be more appropriate.
A Sample Mission Statement
A mission/vision statement need not be long. It’s actually best to keep it fairly simple and concise. Here is an example of a basic but clear mission statement:
“XYZ Institution was founded in 2017 with the goal of reducing adult illiteracy in Brown County.
At XYZ Institution, we believe that the ability to read and write are fundamental to a person’s dignity and the ability to fully participate in our society.
Brown County currently has one of the highest adult illiteracy rates in the country. We are committed to continuously improving our county’s adult literacy rates through free tutoring programs and prevention outreach aimed at keeping at-risk youth in school.”
Benefits of a Mission Statement
It gives outsiders a quick snapshot of who you are. Make sure your mission statement can be easily found on your website so that anyone who stumbles upon your organization online can quickly discover what you’re about. Ever heard of an “elevator pitch?” That’s a business term referring to a quick synopsis of yourself, a project or a company that you could give someone in the span of an elevator ride to interest that person enough to want to learn more. The mission statement is like your “elevator pitch” to any potentially interested party saying who you are, what you do and why they should care.
It clarifies your organization’s priorities. There will be times when one of your board members brings in an idea that he/she feels the organization should pursue. Or an outside individual or group will appeal to you for assistance. It is easy to get sidetracked by competing priorities and the time and resources of your institution can get stretched too thin. Whenever a new potential project presents itself, this is the time to check it against your mission statement. Does it fit well within your mission? The mission statement can help clarify which causes to give a priority.
It helps you to set goals. When you do set out to create fundraising or other types of goals for your organization, having a mission statement helps you to decide whether or not those goals are really helping you achieve your overall mission. Everything comes down to, “Does this initiative help advance our mission?” The answer to that one question simplifies much of your decision-making.
It helps potential donors and members vet you. Volunteers, members, donors and supporters want to know if the values of your organization are in line with their own. If your organization is faith-based or has political leanings, be sure to make that clear. If it’s vehemently NOT aligned with religious beliefs or politics, let that be known as well. Better to attract a small group of passionate supporters who align with your values than many who are either mostly uninvolved or trying to take the group in too many opposing directions.
It keeps you focused on the future. A mission statement keeps you looking forward and always striving to get closer and closer to your ultimate vision. This cultivates a spirit of constant improvement and an openness to new and better ways of doing things.