The times changed and the concept of a mission statement for nonprofit and for-profit corporations caught on. Looking back on the change, I say it is a great idea. When statements took hold, it was not very clear what it should and maybe not say. I remember the first mission statement I used I wrote myself. It did not dawn on me to include others in the process of creating it and celebrating it. It had some 4 paragraphs of multiple sentences. I have no idea what it was about now.
The idea of a mission statement is now so burned into me that I cannot envision a nonprofit that does not spend the time and energy creating one.
What is it? How do we define a "mission statement"?
I call it the spiritual rudder. It defines the purpose for the nonprofit's existence. It briefly describes the uniqueness of the organization, why it exists, what it will accomplish. It gives the board, the staff, the community and potential funders a sense of what the organization stands for. It keeps the organization focused and under control.
As the rudder guides and forces a boat, ship, airplane or submarine to stay on course when water, wind and weather attempt to move it off course, the spiritual rudder maintains the direction when inside and outside forces attempt to change it. It is strong. It is bold. It expresses the soul of the organization, the spiritual rudder.
Creating the mission statement is not a solo act. It can and should be considered and discussed by the leadership. The board and/or staff can participate in several ways including saying how the members want to proceed. My experience shows that it can be a slow process. That is it can be democratized for greater sharing and dreaming. I have been in a process that took six months and resulted in a universal agreement of what the organization was about. We celebrated the end - which was a new beginning.
We used the statement regularly. It had to be out front. We posted it at staff and board meetings. All or the heart of the statement was a watermark on letterhead. It appeared in all publicity, all grant applications. We created a portable, folding triptych poster display for community events featuring the mission statement at the top center. My last development of a mission statement, except for myself, predated websites and other wonderful ways to position the mission statement.
It was not important whether it was short enough for a baseball cap or too long to memorize. It was more important that it was accurate, honest, forceful and expressed our values.
The statement may have to be revisited every so many years. Organizations grow, slide, shift in focus. New people, changed circumstances may alter the direction with a better way to say the words for the spiritual rudder.
Every corporation, including nonprofits, develop a corporate culture. That culture should be influenced by the mission statement from as early a moment as possible, from the first board meeting onward if possible.
For experienced nonprofits that are considering a mission statement for the first time, the development process should have an effect on the culture and can have positive and negative implications that will have to be managed.
The mission statement is the "bottom line". It is one of the three Ms - mission, management and money.
Some resources for understanding a mission statement, a vision statement, marketing, positioning, and advocacy:
Tony Poderis, The Mission Checklist,
Carter McNamara’s Basics of Developing Mission, Vision and Values Statements
“So, when you are preparing your Mission Statement remember to make it clear and succinct, incorporating socially meaningful and measurable criteria and consider approaching it from a grand scale. As you create your Mission Statement consider including some or all of the following concepts.
- The moral/ethical position of the enterprise
- The desired public image
- The key strategic influence for the business
- A description of the target market
- A description of the products/services
- The geographic domain
- Expectations of growth and profitability”
Often overlooked at the beginning of the development of a new organization is communication. Communication includes talking and listening. You will find some guidance through these concepts at Smart Chart 3.0 http://www.smartchart.org/ Free registration required.
Independent Center’s Mission & Market: The Resource Center for Effective Corporate-Nonprofit Partnerships
Ron Meshanko’s article at Idealist.com, What should our mission statement say?
Joanne Fritz’s article at About.com, How to Avoid Mission Creep: 7 Hallmarks of Mission Statements That Stay Put
Joanne Fritz’s article at About.com, Mission Impossible? How to Write Your Mission Statement http://nonprofit.about.com/od/nonprofitbasics/a/mission.htm
Third Sector New England, Strategic Communications Blog Video: What is the difference between a nonprofit’s mission and vision?
Nancy Schwartz, The Nonprofit Tag Line Report
Vince Hyman, Positioning Your Organization for Success http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/npEnterprise/message/2094
Vince Hyman, Reputation Builders http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/npEnterprise/message/2131
Alder Consulting, Branding Your Organization through Your Website
SAMPLE MISSION STATEMENT
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants is the national, professional organization for all certified public accountants. Its mission is to provide members with the resources, information and leadership that enable them to provide valuable services in the highest professional manner to benefit the public, employers and clients.
And how do you achieve this mission?
Use your mission statement for advocating for your organization and what it is doing. We do not spend much energy advocating for our nonprofits and we should . When you advocate for your organization, advocate with the mission statement involved.
Be at the helm of your spiritual rudder.