Writing your most powerful mission statements
To make the voices of older people heard. To defend the rights of people worldwide. To honor and empower wounded warriors.
These all sound like incredibly tall tasks — but don't they also sound inspiring?
A mission statement can be a powerful thing. More than just PR or a way to organize a bunch of thoughts, a mission statement is a rallying cry for the change you want to see. The mission statement examples from Age International and Human Rights Watch are eloquent and succinct, helping their organizations become globally recognized institutions.
Now here's the ultimate test: What's your mission statement?
If trying to draft a mission statement leaves you staring helplessly at a blank piece of paper, or if you've already got one but can't remember a single word, we can help. So let's begin at the beginning!
1. Research other mission statements
The act of writing a mission statement is so daunting that people often make the mistake of thinking the end result should be very complex. Instead, start by forgetting everything you know about mission statements. They don't need to be chock-full of buzzwords and they don't need to address specific programming, initiatives or stakeholders.
- Find examples of successful mission statements to use as models
- Ask members of the community to describe the problem and the solution in their own words
- Jot down words and phrases that come up again and again
2. Identify the who, what and why of your nonprofit mission
Next, answer the following questions:
Who are you speaking to?
For any writing project, it's crucial to know your audience. Is your cause hyper-local? Are you a youth-focused organization? If so, you should sound like it. Or does your nonprofit seek to eradicate something that's happening all over the world? If that's the case, your mission statement should have a universal meaning that resonates in different languages.
What's the problem and what are you doing about it?
This is the real meat of a mission statement. It's also where good intentions often get in the way of good writing. Describing the "what" is where many people get bogged down in nonprofit jargon. If you look again at the examples above, note that they don't actually spell out the problem. They indirectly refer to the problem while keeping the real focus on the solution. The results are uplifting, outcome-focused and memorable statements.
Why is your organization unique?
Chances are your organization has something in common with at least one other nonprofit, but it's just as likely that there's a factor that sets you apart from the pack. Make sure your mission statement speaks to this differentiator — whether it's supporting an underserved population or working on something smaller and more focused, such as socks for the homeless.
3. Avoid common pitfalls when writing your mission statement
Before you put fingers to keys, consider a few all-important don'ts:
- Don't write by committee. Ask stakeholders what they believe the mission statement should convey, not what it should say. Outline the goals and mandatory elements for your mission statement — and then hand over the project to a staff member or volunteer with a writing background. A professional communicator will help your statement reverberate beyond the nonprofit sector.
- Don't be trendy. Stay away from buzzwords and phrases that are likely to seem dated or meaningless 10 years from now. A great mission statement should be able to serve the organization for the long haul.
- Don't over explain. It's a mission statement, not a mission paragraph. It should have more in common with a bumper sticker than a grant proposal.
If meetings about the mission statement devolve into arguments about verbs and mixed metaphors, remind yourself and your colleagues why you began this work in the first place. This will lead you back to a simple and powerful message: how you plan to meet your organization's dream.
Nonprofit Hub: Nonprofit mission statements: Good and bad examples by Marc Koenig
Community Tool Box: Proclaiming your dream: Developing mission and vision statements by Jenette Nagy and Stephen Fawcett