Creating an Effective Mission Statement

Copyright 2021

Many organizations spend a lot of time and money creating mission statements to highlight their work and align employees around a common vision. But the fact is, many mission statements fail, becoming nothing more than a wall ornament or a paragraph tucked into a seldom-read company handbook. 

For the most part, mission statements fail because they:

  • Use fuzzy, non-specific language,
  • Include interchangeable goals or visions that could apply to any organization,
  • Lack true, prolonged leadership support, and
  • Are poorly implemented.

Still, every not-for-profit organization, big or small, should have a mission statement. Here are three reasons:

1. A mission statement serves as a compass for members, supporters and staffers so they know what the organization stands for and where it's headed.

2. It builds loyalty and mobilizes people to act passionately behind a common cause.

3. It defines the organization's collective personality, provides clear direction and, most of all, gets results.

But these things are only true if the mission statement is properly written and prominently displayed on your organization's website, in its brochures and in other materials.

Here are a few elements to consider when writing a mission statement:

  • Target Audience.This might include members, employees, contributors and the community. The mission statement can be targeted at a combination of these groups or just one of them.
  • Length. Some mission statements are only a single sentence, while others are long and encompass visions, philosophies, objectives, plans and strategies. Generally, it's best to come up with something that's concise and easy to understand and actionable -- a document your organization will actually use to make decisions.
  • Tone. Establishing the correct tone involves a process of intentional word selection. If the language is too flowery and cumbersome, a great mission statement may not be taken seriously. Use appropriate language that's directed at the target audience and reflects the makeup of the organization.
  • Endurance. A mission statement should be able to withstand the test of time and be meaningful for many years. By the same token, a mission statement should be updated to reflect changes in your nonprofit and the larger world. A statement created years ago may no longer be relevant.
  • Uniqueness. Since every not-for-profit organization is different, a mission statement should be customized to reflect your organization's needs and goals.
Effective mission statements can be a great asset. When everyone is working together toward a shared goal, the group has a better chance of being successful. Perform an analysis of your culture and development, and prioritize goals and objectives. When this process is complete, the mission -- and your mission statement's contents -- should be clear.