How to build a great nonprofit mission statement
A mission statement is the foundation of any organization. It defines the culture and can influence every aspect of a business or organization.
Mission statements are usually concise and to the point. It can be difficult to capture the essence of your organization in one simple sentence. The process of building a nonprofit mission statement takes time, brainstorming, and creativity. In this blog post, we’ll go into detail about how to easily create an effective mission statement your nonprofit can be proud of.
What is a mission statement?
Let’s start from the basics. What even is a mission statement? A mission statement is a statement that communicates the unique purpose of the organization. It is supposed to encapsulate the nonprofit’s purpose and who the nonprofit serves. Many confuse mission statements with vision statements; while these are similar, a vision statement focuses on the overall goal of the organization looking into the future. The mission statement focuses on the present and states how the organization serves its communities in its current reality.
Mission statements are supposed to be clear, concise, and pretty succinct. The short phrase should sum up:
- Why your nonprofit exists and is important in your community.
- Whom your nonprofit serves in the communities. This could be multiple audiences.
- How your nonprofit served its target communities.
A great example of a mission statement is Charity Water. Their mission statement is “to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries.” This is a strong mission statement because it’s clear, easy to read and understand, and short. It gets their mission across without being too wordy or complex. We’ll dive into why that’s important later.
If you don’t have a mission statement already, work to create one as soon as you can. A mission statement is an important asset of your organization because:
- It provides clear direction to what your nonprofit exists to accomplish
- It serves as a basis for motivation for all involved with your nonprofit
- It offers direction in decision making
- It dials in audiences to what they should focus on
- It is a carrier of your organization’s powerful message
Elements in your mission statement
For your mission statement to be effective, there are three elements that are absolutely essential.
Your mission statement needs to be clear. It should be free of jargon and complex vocabulary; your mission statement is not an opportunity to try to appear smart. Simplicity is the name of the game with mission statements, so avoid buzzwords and any other phrases that will increase the complexity of your statement. A good tip is to try and keep the writing at a 5th or 6th grade reading level, so it’s an accessible statement that all audiences of all education levels can understand.
Just like keeping it simple, keep it short. If you’re grounded in your organization’s mission and it’s clear what that mission is, you should be able to state that in a few words or less. Try to stick to a maximum of 20 words, 5-15 words is even better. The brevity of your statement also applies to the wording; avoid words that are longer than four syllables and are more than 12 letters long.
If your current mission statement isn’t getting your message across, it’s not effective. Cut out the fluff and focus on the important information that needs to be communicated. It doesn’t matter how short or catchy your mission statement is, if it doesn’t portray the correct information, it’s not effective.
A good example for this is TED (TED Talks) mission statement, which is simply “Spread ideas.” Points for being brief and concise, but those who don’t know what TED is don’t get much from that mission statement. Spread ideas how? To who? Where? Why? It’s crucial that your audiences are getting the right information.
Tips to remember when building a mission statement
As you can see, creating an effective mission statement for your organization is not easy by any means. Especially if you’re starting from scratch. When you’re in the process of making a mission statement for your nonprofit, there are a few tips to remember to make the process as seamless as possible for your and your team.
The first is to encourage participation. No matter the size of your nonprofit, there’s no “I” in “Team”. To make sure the mission statement captures the values of all groups in your organization, welcome feedback, constructive criticism, and ideas from trusted members in your board or other groups in the organization. Gather thoughts from everyone involved and see what values are most important to them, or what values they think of when working with the organization.
Another tip is to remain open and honest with your team members about the mission statement. Some groups may have different ideas than others, and it’s your job to mitigate those discussions and ensure everyone is represented while staying on course. Depending on your budget and potential issues at hand, it may be smart to hire an external mitigator or consultant to walk your team through the process in an unbiased, open way.
Once your mission statement is drafted, reviewed, and published to the world, make sure you review it often, especially during impactful events like pandemics, natural disasters, or anything that could possibly impact your organization. Your mission statement is tied to the nonprofit’s public image, and it’s a good internal communications tactic to review the mission statement as your public image transforms over time.
The process of creating your mission statement
Once you’re set up with a strong team and you’re ready to work, you can build a mission statement in five steps. Start with getting either a focus group or a group of volunteers, employees, or board members within your organization and dial them in on your goals for the mission statement.
Step 1: Brainstorm ideas through storytelling
This is a great step that focuses on testimonials and personal experience to see how your nonprofit impacts people firsthand. At the beginning of your brainstorming sessions, ask team members to share their experiences with the nonprofit and see if anything with potential could be recorded in the mission statement. For example, if someone says your nonprofit changed their life, a portion of the mission statement could be “changing lives.” It’s important that you tie your mission statement back to the direct impact your organization makes on its communities.
Step 2: Share experiences and record similarities
If you’re working with focus groups or smaller groups, ask them to share their storytelling experiences with the larger group. Are there any similarities between the experiences? Did two or more people share the same impactful thoughts? Take note of the most popular occurrences and try to include them in your mission statement. Things to note are what physical locations are most brought up? What groups of people? What problems were they facing, and what actions helped them?
Step 3: Craft patterns into your mission statement
Identify and analyze any patterns you find and apply them to the six building blocks of a mission statement: Action, Targeted Beneficiaries, Services, Problems, Causes, and Partners. Which stories fit with which building blocks? If most of the stories told mentioned an action that was made, and there’s a strong pattern attached to the impact of those actions, a building block you should include in your mission statement is Action. To have an effective mission statement, use between 2-4 building blocks.
For an example, the WWF mission statement is “to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.” In this case, they are using Action (“to conserve” and “reduce”), Problem (“threats to the diversity of life on Earth”) and Targeted Beneficiaries (“nature”). Put together a few options and brainstorm with your team about which statement most effectively showcases the mission of your organization. Remember to remain open and encourage constructive criticism and feedback.
Overall, your mission statement should be simple, memorable, and original. Work with your team to build a mission statement that your nonprofit can be proud of and shared worldwide.
Want to learn more?
Are you stuck in the process of creating content, like a mission statement, for your nonprofit website? Are you hitting creative walls or experiencing concern about how to effectively place this information online? Contact us today for a FREE, 15-minute consultation on how we can help you build out and achieve your nonprofit website goals.