Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Importance of the Mission Statement

by Bunnie Riedel, Host

The last two articles, “Mercy Medical Airlift: Keeping the Mission Torch Burning” and “Messaging Crisis for Nonprofits,” fit nicely into what I want to tackle today: mission statements.

Developing a mission statement can be one of the most difficult tasks a nonprofit can face but it is uniquely critical to guiding what the nonprofit will do and how it will convey what it does to the general public or its constituency. Mission statements are the cornerstone of developing programs and certainly key to messaging (or marketing) efforts. Whether your organization is a new start-up or has a long history, re-visiting your mission statement from time to time is a good idea.

That being said, I know of organizations that want to re-write their mission statements constantly. Sometimes mission statements get challenged by new board members or they are challenged when the organization hits a rough patch. Constant tinkering with the mission statement is a bad idea and very unproductive as it can waste valuable time and resources. Therefore the bar is set high to “get it right” the first time.

Mission statements should encompass the work you do and they should be more specific than general. Action verbs should be prevalent and strong: this is what we are doing…this is what we are going to do. As much as possible, try to incorporate the five rubrics of journalism: who, what, where, why and how. Additionally, I am a fan of short, succinct mission statements. Keep it to two or three sentences, any more than that loses the audience and dilutes the message.

The two following mission statements are from similar organizations that provide grants in their communities (the names provided are fictitious but the mission statements are real):

The XYZ Foundation Mission Statement

The XYZ Foundation is a resource for people, businesses, and communities in XYZ Land, working toward prosperity through economic and social justice. Our purpose is to strengthen families, grow a sustainable regional economy, cultivate leadership and philanthropy, and foster respect for all. Through our grants to non-profits, loans to local businesses, and other special programs, the XYZ Foundation is building a strong foundation for the future of our region.

The BFF Foundation Mission Statement

Our mission is to actively serve the people of the BFF area by building permanent charitable capital, making philanthropic grants, and providing services that contribute to the health and vitality of the community.

As I indicated, these two organizations are similar in that they basically provide grants to nonprofits and businesses in the community. The XYZ Foundation has a wordy mission statement that makes a lot of promises and could potentially cause confusion in determining the range of its programming. I am not sure how a foundation goes about fostering “respect for all” nor am I sure which nonprofits or businesses in their region could qualify for grants that would meet that objective. The XYZ Foundation has to ask itself how it will go about cultivating leadership and philanthropy, what programs will it create to do so and is it possible given their funding to achieve all that their mission statement promises?

Conversely, the BFF Foundation mission statement is simple. They promise to: build charitable capital; make grants; and provide services that contribute to the health and vitality of the community.

At every board meeting the directors can ask themselves: “what are we doing to build charitable capital?” “what grants have we made or are we making?” “what programs do we have in place that contribute to the health and vitality of the community?” The mission statement becomes a touchstone for everything they do. It also narrows the scope of what they will do and helps to keep the organization focused.

In researching mission statements I came across this website:

It’s worth looking at other organizations’ mission statements to see which ones resonate with you and which mission statements are clear and compelling.

There are many ways to go about writing a mission statement but at the core of this must be an exploration of what the organization is; who does the organization serve; how will the organization accomplish its mission. Once you have achieved a mission statement I would recommend having a focus group of people unfamiliar with the organization go through the mission statement and provide feedback. This will help you learn whether or not the mission statement is telling your story.

On a final note, years ago I began the practice of putting the mission statement on the name placards of the board members for their meetings. It can be a tent folded placard with their names on one side and the mission statement on the other, with the mission statement facing the board member. I know of another woman who put the mission statement on laminated placemats. Either way, this practice provides board members with a constant reminder of the mission. Many times I have seen board members pick up the placard and ask if what the board was discussing was conducive to the mission. Try it at your next board meeting, you will be surprised at how having the mission statement in front of board members keeps the board focused.

(post script: The recent events in Haiti show once again that nonprofits are capable of providing services governments cannot provide. They are also a testament to the amazing work nonprofits are doing throughout the world. I know we all have the people of Haiti in our thoughts and prayers)

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post Dmitry. I just had one of the ‘Doh!’ moments and ran back to correct my own site before publishing my comment. You see my own comment form did not match what I’m about to advise. I get less comments than you, so never noticed any problem. I’ve changed it now anyway so here goes.

    money and profit