How To Write A Mission Statement

How To Write A Mission Statement

February 4, 2016 Lynette Garet Business Basics 0 Comment

A Powerful and Compelling Mission Statement is Vital to Your Nonprofit Organization

There are many approaches you can use to find the wording that best expresses the collective intention of your organization. It can be drafted by one person alone or after input gathered at leadership meetings. The most important issue is that there is consensus on the answers to the questions used in developing the mission statement.

One approach is to use time at a board retreat to discuss these questions and find out where the areas of consensus are and where there are differences. There is a “process” benefit to hashing over an organization’s mission statement as well. In the course of discussion and debate, new members are introduced to nuances of an organization’s mission and changes in the environment, and old members refresh their understanding of both. As a result, the group will have confidence that the mission statement which emerges (whether it is a new statement or a rededication to the old mission statement) is genuinely an articulation of commonly held ideas.

Groups are good at many things, but one of them is not writing. Have group discussions about big ideas and concepts and then let one or two individuals draft and redraft the wording before submitting a reworked version for the group to respond to. It is important to circulate the draft mission statement a few times to board, staff, and other stakeholders. Some consultants advise organizations to also seek an outside opinion from someone unfamiliar with the organization to see how easily the mission statement can be understood.

Mix with passion, humanity and an eye on the big picture, and keep refining the mission statement until you have a version that people can actively support.

What is a Mission Statement?

You should think of a mission statement as a cross between a slogan and an executive summary.
Just as slogans and executive summaries can be used in many ways so to can a mission statement. An effective mission statement should be able to tell your company story and ideals in less than 30 seconds.

How should I write a Mission Statement?

Here are some basic guidelines in writing a mission statement:

  • A mission statement should say who your company is, what you do, what you stand for and why you do it.
  • An effective mission statement is best developed with input by all the members of an organization.
  • The best mission statements tend to be a few sentences long.
  • Avoid saying how great you are, what great quality and what great service you provide.
  • Examine other company’s mission statements, but make certain your statement is unique to you and your project.
  • Make sure your mission statement captures the passion of your project.
  • In just a few sentences a mission statement needs to communicate the essence of your organization to your stakeholders and to the public.

Often, however, organizations want to say more about who they are, what they are doing, and why they are doing it. Therefore, another example of a mission statement format is illustrated by the mission statement developed by the Forest Service. After a brief statement, the Forest Service uses three pages to elaborate its mission, vision, and guiding principles. Excerpts from the expanded statement include:
The phrase, “caring for the land and serving the people,” captures the Forest Service mission. As set forth in law, the mission is to achieve quality land management under the sustainable multiple-use management concept to meet the diverse needs of people.

It includes advocating a conservation ethic:

Vision: We are recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in caring for the land and service people…

Guiding Principles: To realize our mission and vision, we follow 13 guiding principles …
Neither approach is necessarily the “right” one for your organization. What is important about your mission statement is that one guiding set of ideas is articulated, understood and supported by the organization’s stakeholders, board, staff, volunteers, donors, clients, and collaborators.

Developing a Mission Statement

  • At is most basic, the mission statement describes the overall purpose of the organization.
  • If the organization elects to develop a vision statement before developing the mission statement, ask “Why does the image, the vision exist — what is it’s purpose?” This purpose is often the same as the mission.
  • Developing a mission statement can be quick culture-specific, i.e., participants may use methods ranging from highly analytical and rational to highly creative and divergent, e.g., focused discussions, divergent experiences around daydreams, sharing stories, etc. Therefore, visit with the participants how they might like to arrive at description of their organizational mission.
  • When wording the mission statement, consider the organization’s products, services, markets, values, and concern for public image, and maybe priorities of activities for survival.
  • Consider any changes that may be needed in wording of the mission statement because of any new suggested strategies during a recent strategic planning process.
  • Ensure that wording of the mission is to the extent that management and employees can infer some order of priorities in how products and services are delivered.
  • When refining the mission, a useful exercise is to add or delete a word from the mission to realize the change in scope of the mission statement and assess how concise is its wording.
  • Does the mission statement include sufficient description that the statement clearly separates the mission of the organization from other organizations?

One Formula That May Be Helpful

Gordon and Dawes effectively define a mission statement as having four parts:

  • The essential action (how you intend to engage with the world using your talents, resources and passions).
  • Your central concern (what your attention or action is focused on creating or what you will do or produce).
  • Beneficiary (who you intend to touch with your service).
  • Intended impact (the outcome you desire to achieve).
    These can be listed in this order or the order can be changed as you prefer.

An example of how to apply this formula is:

  • Essential Action: The Solutions Project provides universally accessible housing…
  • Beneficiaries: for the disabled community…
  • Central Concern: to create independent living…
  • Intended Impact: so that lives will be empowered and family financial stability will be supported.
  • The Need for a Mission Statement

In Profiles of Excellence, the Independent Sector lists a clear, agreed upon mission statement first among the four primary characteristics of successful not-for-profit organizations. Specifically, the four primary characteristics include:

  • A clear, agreed-upon mission statement
  • A strong, competent executive director
  • A dynamic board of directors
  • An organization-wide commitment to fundraising.

The primary importance of the mission statement means that failure to clearly state and communicate your organization’s mission can have harmful consequences, including:

  • Organization members can waste time “barking up the wrong tree”
  • The organization may not think broadly enough about different possibilities if its mission statement is unclear or overly narrow

What Should Be in a Mission Statement?

The following concepts are critical in defining “who” your organization is:

The Purpose Statement.
The purpose statement clearly states what your organization seeks to accomplish: Why does your organization exist? What is the ultimate result of your work?

Purpose statements usually include two phrases:

  • an infinitive that indicates a change in status, such as to increase, to decrease, to prevent, to eliminate
  • an identification of the problem or condition to be changed.

An example of a purpose statement is “to eliminate homelessness.”

In defining purpose, it is essential to focus on outcomes and results rather than methods: How is the world going to be different? What is going to change? Thus, the purpose of a disability counseling agency would never be simply “to provide counseling services,” for that is describing a method rather than a result. Rather, the purpose might be “to improve the quality of life” for its consumers.

The Business Statement

This statement outlines the “business(es)” (i.e., activities or programs) your organization chooses in order to pursue its purpose. Specifically, you must answer, “What activity are we going to do to accomplish our purpose?” For example, there are many ways to work on the problem of homelessness:

  • To construct housing for homeless individuals
  • To educate the public and advocate for public policy changes
  • To provide job training to homeless individuals.

Each of these are different businesses, but they may be different means of achieving the same purpose.

Business statements often include the verb “to provide” or link a purpose statement with the words “by” or “through.” For example: “To eliminate homelessness by providing job training to homeless individuals.”

A cautionary note: If the word “and” is in your purpose or business statement, ask yourselves, “Are we really committed to both ideas connected by the word” and, “or have we simply not been able to accept that one idea is more important?”

Values

Values are beliefs which your organization’s members hold in common and endeavor to put into practice. The values guide your organization’s members in performing their work. Specifically, you should ask, “What are the basic beliefs that we share as an organization?”

Examples of values include: a commitment to excellent services, innovation, diversity, creativity, honesty, integrity, and so on. Values may include beliefs such as: “Eating vegetables is more economically efficient and ecologically responsible than eating beef.” (Vegetarian Association)

Marvin Weisbord writes in Productive Workplaces that values come alive only when people are involved in doing important tasks. Ideally, an individual’s personal values will align with the spoken and unspoken values of the organization. By developing a written statement of the values of the organization, group members have a chance to contribute to the articulation of these values, as well as to evaluate how well their personal values and motivation match those of the organization.
The example of this mission statement includes all three elements of what should be included in a mission statement. To review:
At the Developmental Studies Center we develop, evaluate, and disseminate programs [business] that foster children’s ethical, social, and intellectual development [purpose]. While nurturing children’s capacity to think skillfully and critically, we also strive to deepen children’s commitment to prosocial values such as kindness, helpfulness, personal responsibility, and respect for others – qualities we believe are essential to leading humane and productive lives in a democratic society [values].

Below is another example of a mission statement which includes all three elements:
The YMCA of San Francisco, based in Judeo-Christian heritage [values], seeks to enhance the lives of all people [purpose] through programs designed to develop spirit, mind and body [business].
In addition to the three elements discussed above, you may want to address the following questions in developing your organization’s mission statement:

  • What is the problem or need your organization is trying to address?
  • What makes your organization unique?
  • Who are the beneficiaries of your work?

Clearly, the answers to the these questions could be included in the mission statement or added as elaboration of the mission statement.

Ron Meshanko wrote in soc.org.nonprofit about “Mission Statements” on 29 Feb 1996 as follows:

I give board trainings all over the country and begin each session with
a quiz, the first question being, write your agency mission statement.
99% of the time, not one person – sometimes even the executive director-
can write down in clear, succinct language the mission statement of the
agency.

How can these people lobby on behalf of their organization? How can a
person who can’t communicate the mission of the agency ask for a gift?

A Mission Statement should be a one-sentence, clear, concise statement that says who the organization is (the name, that it is a not-for-profit, and what type of organization it is), what it does, for whom and where.

Have a simple, easy to remember and repeat statement that your board members, staff and volunteers can effectively use to lobby on behalf of your organization.

An example: “United Community Center is a 501(c)(3) human service agency providing emergency assistance, daycare, social services and recreational activities for low-income children and families at risk in inner city Atlanta, Georgia”.

Often, however, organizations want to say more about who they are, what they are doing, and why they are doing it. Therefore, another example of a mission statement format is illustrated by the mission statement developed by the Forest Service. After a brief statement, the Forest Service uses three pages to elaborate its mission, vision, and guiding principles. Excerpts from the expanded statement include:

The phrase, “caring for the land and serving the people,” captures the Forest Service mission. As set forth in law, the mission is to achieve quality land management under the sustainable multiple-use management concept to meet the diverse needs of people.
It includes advocating a conservation ethic.

Vision: We are recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in
caring for the land and service people…

Guiding Principles: To realize our mission and vision, we follow 13
guiding principles …

Neither approach is necessarily the “right” one for your organization.
What is important about your mission statement is that one guiding set
of ideas is articulated, understood and supported by the organization’s
stakeholders, board, staff, volunteers, donors, clients, and
collaborators.

Get In Touch

Call: 505 217 9333

Email: info@thepowerofpurpose.com

The Power of Purpose