Off the top of your head, what’s your mission statement? Don’t cheat. Don’t look. …that’s what we thought. Most of us probably don’t have any idea. Sadly, for 99% of us, no one outside of our nonprofit knows what our mission statement is either, because it just isn’t that memorable. But you can avoid that fate if you take some time to learn from your peers. Let’s analyze, in depth, some good and bad examples of nonprofit mission statements. But first, let’s chat about why your mission statement is useful in the first place.
The Attributes of Good and Bad Mission Statements
Your mission statement is a way of summing up your nonprofit to the outside world.
In many ways, a mission statement is a kind of PR move: a way to position your organization as memorable and unique. What’s the one thing you want your organization to be known for in the world? More importantly, what’s the message that already resonates with your donors and true fans?
The 3 Pivotal Elements of a Great Mission Statement
1. A Cause or Who You Serve (What matters? Who is important?) 2. An Action (What are you doing?) 3. A Result (What change can you see?) These three elements unite the best mission statements, and typically, ONLY these elements. (Though often, one or more element is only implied.) Nonprofits like to make their mission statements complex, but the truth is complexity doesn’t make something valuable. That’s why these three elements are so useful: this is YOUR nonprofit, distilled to its essence. It’s a little elevator pitch: it’s not supposed to tell everything about your nonprofit. It’s supposed to get people interested in hearing more.
The Good, Bad and the Ugly
Ok, this is what you’re really here for. Let’s look at mission statements from well-known organizations.
“We’re a nonprofit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries.”
Verdict: This happens to be a really great mission statement: it is simple, emotional and contains all three elements: There’s a problem. There’s hope. The nonprofit is the solution, but only if YOU, the potential donor, help us out.
Springboard for the Arts:
“Springboard for the Arts is an economic and community development organization for artists and by artists. Our work is about building stronger communities, neighborhoods, and economies, and we believe that artists are an important leverage point in that work. Springboard for the Arts’ mission is to cultivate vibrant communities by connecting artists with the skills, information, and services they need to make a living and a life.”
Verdict: Rework. This is a cause we can really get behind–using art to build vibrant communities. Awesome! But wouldn’t the mission be clearer if it wasn’t so long? A few of these sentences could be combined into a killer, inspiring mission statement–which could also be tweetable!
“Just do it.”
Verdict: Brilliant. Nike just did it. You’re inspired to go buy some sneakers and use that gym membership now, aren’t you? Same here.
The Women’s Center
(Updated, May 2017)
“The mission of The Women’s Center is to significantly improve the mental health and well-being of all members of the community through counseling, education, support and advocacy.”
Verdict: The Women’s Center recently reworked their mission statement from one that used vague language with no telling of what they did on a daily basis or whom they served, to one that inspires action. Now, the public and potential donors understand the awesome work the nonprofit does because they can read directly how their support (especially financial) is put to use. All it takes is keeping it simple!
5 Quick Tests For Your Mission Statement
- Say It Out Loud This alone tells you a lot about your statement. Is it easy to say? Does it roll off the tongue? Or are you bored before you finish saying it?
- Memory Tell a friend or employee your statement or have them read it out loud. Talk about something unrelated for a minute. Then ask them to tell you the statement again. If they can’t get it close, you have more work to do.
- Crowdsource Find multiple people who don’t know your cause and have them evaluate your statement. Do they get it? Do several people (whose opinions you respect) have similar suggestions for changes?
- When Can You Shut Your Doors? Look at your mission statement. Based on this statement, when will your nonprofit declare “mission accomplished?” Is there a clear end point where you’ll be able to happily disband your nonprofit and have an epic party, because you’ve succeeded? If you don’t have an end goal, your mission might be too vague.
- “You too?” If someone could read your mission statement and say, “You too?” your mission statement is too broad. Refine it. Your organization does (or should) have something no other organization offers. What is it?
The Most Important Thing to Remember
The most important thing to remember… is that your mission statement isn’t enough. It’s easy to set sexy goals for your organization, create a nonprofit strategy and then never stop planning. At the end of the day, what matters most is taking action. You have a mission. Now go accomplish it.
Post your mission statement in the comments below – let’s critique our statements together. Hint: Use the 5 Quick Tests above, and look at the opening chart. Do you pass? Do you need to revise your statement? Let’s all work together to craft awesome statements.