These days nearly every small business and non-profit has a mission statement. Even the biggest tech giants like Facebook and Google have mission statements. So what’s the deal with mission statements and why are they important?
What is a mission statement?
A mission statement is the guiding principle of your organization. It is also part of your branding – a key part that will help your staff and volunteers communicate the purpose of your organization while at the same time distinguishing your organization from others. If you’re looking for a formal definition, Top Nonprofits defines a mission statement as a “one-sentence statement describing the reason an organization or program exists and used to help guide decisions about priorities, actions, and responsibilities.” This is a great definition because it conveys the importance of brevity in your mission statement while also focusing on its usage within and outside of the organization.
What is the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement?
While a mission statement is the guiding principle of your organization, a vision statement is how you want the world to be in the future. A vision statement is your perspective on an ideal world. For example, a STEM non-profit for children might have a mission statement of “inspire curiosity and exploration of science” while the vision statement might be “all children to have access to quality STEM education.” Yes, they sound pretty similar but you can see that the vision statement is a little more “pie-in-the-sky” than the mission statement.
Why is having a mission statement important?
I have worked for two different types of organizations – those with a clear mission statement and those with an unclear mission statement. The biggest difference between those two types of organizations is that those with a clear mission statement have a general sense of direction for the organization. When they ask whether to launch a new program, they start by looking at their mission statement to see if that program is the right fit.
Those without a clear mission statement tend to have many ideas that all lead in a variety of directions. For example, a nonprofit highlighting the work of an important historical author might offer programming from local history to intensive writing workshops. Without a mission statement, they can easily be overwhelmed by the choices and stall out when the board cannot agree on the right course of action.
Essentially, mission statements are important because they can guide your organization and prevent your organization from starting programs or services that are not part of your purpose as an organization.
How do I write a mission statement?
Whether working on a team or by yourself on crafting your mission statement, the first thing you want to do is review the definition of a mission statement. While you might think you know it inside and out, having that definition fresh in your mind will prove valuable as you’ll have less conversations over the purpose of the mission statement.
As a side note, I do highly recommend working on your mission statement with a team of people. Whether that team is your board or a group of dedicated volunteers, having a group to bounce ideas around and think outside of your thought process will go a long way to developing a useful and powerful mission statement.
Now that everyone is on the same page, I find that throwing out key phrases and important words to your organization to be a good start. Write these phrases and words on a whiteboard or big piece of paper, so everyone can see them through the next step.
Next, you have a few choices because not every method will work for everyone. If you have the time (and patience), you can block off a few hours with you team to hash out mission statement ideas. If you have a big team, have them work in smaller groups to help facilitate conversation without overwhelming introverts with a large group discussion. This is a great time to use any meeting techniques that have worked for you in past, like Think-Pair-Share.
My preferred method is to take notes on the key phrases and words, then email that document to your team. I then ask everyone on the team to come up with 3-5 mission statements on their own. We plan on meeting 1-2 weeks later so that everyone has time to come up with ideas, then we share each of the mission statements with the group. From this, you might have one statement that everyone likes, or you might have a couple that you can tweak until it is right. You can also use a mix of these methods – just do what works for your group.
Examples of good mission statements
Super Heroines, Etc.: To empower women to embrace their inner nerd.
St. Louis Science Center: To ignite and sustain lifelong science and technology learning.
UC Business College: To build and nurture learning partnerships that foster sustainable enterprises and careers.
Facebook: To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
TED: Spreading Ideas.
Smithsonian: The increase and diffusion of knowledge.
The Humane Society: Celebrating Animals, Confronting Cruelty.