Successful nonprofit organizations use their mission statements as touchstones for everything board and staff members do. They ask, “Do the strategic plan and its supporting objectives build upon the whole reason we exist? Does the budget accurately reflect what’s really important to us? Do our policies and procedures advance our purposes?”
A good mission statement articulates an organization’s fundamental purpose. It helps focus the board members thinking and actions on what distinguishes their organization from others. It should not so much describe the organization as define the results the organization seeks to achieve.
Ideally, a mission statement is succinct (fewer than thirty words), memorable, and clear-cut. Shorter statements can easily be printed and memorized by board members, staff members, and others. It serves as a reminder why the board and the staff commit themselves to the organization.
A mission statement is not a summary of strategies or programs. Here are some examples that illustrate the difference:
Yes: We want to stimulate love of learning and reading in young people.
No: Our mission is to provide free books to local schools.
Yes: We want to strengthen our community by helping those who are in need gain self-sufficiency
No: Our mission is to operate neighborhood-based food banks and offer job training.
A vision statement differs from a mission statement yet also requires board approval. As its name implies, a vision statement paints a picture of what the organization sees possible in the future, often working with others having a similar vision but perhaps a different mission. Think of a vision statement as a long-term achievement that will guide the staff to fully realize the mission.
In its vision statement, a nonprofit organization will find its inspiration and motivation what it wants to be or make happen in the future.
Typically longer than a mission statement, a good vision statement is both idealistic and realistic: it challenges people to accomplish something while making the accomplishment attainable. For example,
We aspire to be the premier youth sports organization in the state, the first choice for boys and girls who want to develop their athletic talents to the best of their abilities in an atmosphere of caring and support.
Our vision is to be the most effective voice and most vocal advocate for the preservation and restoration of wetlands throughout the world. We will operate in partnership with other like-minded organizations to shape the future of our world through research, science, and education.
This organization is an agent for positive change and innovation within the health care field. We encourage and support the growth of healthy communities throughout the nation.
It’s not uncommon for nonprofit organizations to revise their vision statements every five years or so, to reflect changes and developments in the world around them.
Many organizations also identify principles, corporate values, and other organizational goals.
SUQQESTED ACTION STEPS
1. Chief executive, post the mission statement and vision in a well-trafficked area, where board members, staff members, and visitors will be sure to see them.
2. Board members, to reinforce the organization’s mission, consider reprinting the full mission statement (or highlighting three or four key words) on its letterhead.
3. Board chair, ask the chief executive to do reports tied to the mission statement, to make it measurable to some extent.