Giving Your Nonprofit A Sense of Direction
Does your nonprofit need a mission statement? We think so.
Here’s why: your mission statement summarizes what your organization does, who it serves, and how it accomplishes its goals. It’s a brief yet memorable sentence that speaks to the core of who your nonprofit is. It provides a sense of direction.
When donors, volunteers, or potential clients see your mission statement, they ought to get a clear sense of your purpose and programs. And when your team has a mission statement to reference, it provides clarity so you can rally around your cause without confusion. Especially when facing complex decisions, your mission statement serves as a compass to keep your nonprofit on the right path.
So take inventory of your programs. Review your goals and values. And determine how your mission statement will help chart a course to introduce your nonprofit to the rest of the world.
Tips on Drafting Your Mission Statement
With a small group of your key stakeholders (board members, staff, etc.), brainstorm the most direct way of saying who you are and what you do as an organization. Focus on the best way to describe those you serve and a succinct way to explain how you serve them.
One way to do this is to ask your group to describe in their own words what your nonprofit’s mission is. Their responses may come in the form of action words (motivate, rescue, build, etc.) or more narrative descriptions (we focus on first generation college graduates and provide services like free networking opportunities, resume reviews, etc.). From there, you can make a chart highlighting common threads and key words that stand out to you. Your whiteboard or sticky notes might end up looking something like this:
These words, phrases and ideas will be the pieces you can “plug in” to your mission statement. Experiment with different formats like the following to get started:
“We (action word + values) so (demographic you serve) can (solutions).”
“Through (solutions + values), we ensure (demographic you serve) can find freedom from (problem).”
“Our mission is to (action word + solution) for (demographic you serve) so (problems) cannot continue.”
As you narrow down your mission to its most essential components, here are some nonprofit mission statement “Dos and Don’ts” to consider:
DO be specific. Instead of serving “people,” you serve veterans facing PTSD, incarcerated youth, or women battling cancer. Instead of “helping,” you deliver nutritious meals, remove barriers to affordable housing, transform young minds, etc.
DON’T be too wordy. One sentence will do, and try to keep it under 20 words. Avoid industry-specific jargon, clauses or long lists. Find one-word alternatives to lengthy phrases: instead of, “we strive to move towards,” try “pursue.” Instead of, “due to the fact that…” try “because.”
DO make your mission statement a “pillar” for your organization. Those in leadership ought to continually review your mission statement when making a decision. It’s helpful to have a point of reference when evaluating whether or not a decision is in alignment with your nonprofit’s overall purpose.
DON’T make it a message for only one audience. Avoid phrasing that only applies to donors, the demographic you serve, etc. Your mission statement should be balanced enough to speak to both internal and external audiences.
DO match your mission statement with your nonprofit’s brand voice. Many of the principles from our article on naming your nonprofit and finding its voice can also be used here. For example, try saying your mission statement aloud to see if it rolls off the tongue.
DON’T hesitate to reach out to a consultant if you’re feeling stuck. If you need an expert perspective, feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to help through our MV²P (mission, vision, values and priorities) service.
Examples of Nonprofit Mission Statements
Here are some excellent nonprofit mission statements for you to draw inspiration from. We’ll discuss why we like them, too.
“Our mission is to bring people the power to raise themselves out of the darkness of poverty through solar lighting.”
Why it’s strong: Watts of Power serves populations without electricity needed for light sources. We love how this mission statement powerfully contrats darkness vs. light while describing how they accomplish their goals.
“Our mission is to rescue children from sexual exploitation and human trafficking and help them stay free.”
Why it’s strong: Destiny Rescue’s two main program lines include both rescue and reintegration into society. This mission includes them both while being simple and straightforward.
“To promote and provide the resources, education, and programs needed to eliminate the killing of companion animals.”
Why it’s strong: Austin Pets Alive! could have easily said, “We help animals throughout Austin,Texas,” but this would have been too vague to cover the scope of what they do. This mission statement is both succinct and specific—a perfect combination!
Once you’ve chosen your mission statement and it is approved by your board, you’ll want to implement it organization-wide. Include it in your staff manual or on board materials to refocus your team. Include it on your website homepage or on social media so people can find it online. Include it in your grant applications or donation requests.
It’s okay if your nonprofit ends up needing to revisit it if you have a change in programs or demographics. Your mission statement may need to evolve as your organization evolves. Just remember to make your mission statement a battle cry you’re proud of—and let it inspire and empower you to do more good.