Follow This Simple Formula for Your Mission and Vision Statements
Are you concerned that your mission or vision statements aren’t aligning with your organization? Or, maybe you don’t have clearly defined statements because you don’t know where to start?
Your nonprofit has its own identity, and it’s likely that you want to tell your whole story to your stakeholders. However, when nonprofits wrap everything that the organization is about into its mission and vision statements, a lot of the power and decision-making value is lost in these lofty and winding statements.
It’s important to create statements that guide decision-making, inspire your team and attract stakeholders — all in a way that is easy to communicate and remember.
This may seem like quite a feat, and perhaps you’ve been working on your statements for quite some time. However, be assured that there are no perfectly worded mission or vision statements. Don’t worry about perfection because you can always come back and do some wordsmithing.
Defining Missions and Visions
Your mission and vision statements are your core guiding statements, and funders often require them to consider whether you’re a good match for their priorities.
Based on years of learning from organizations, I’ve defined mission and vision statements as the following:
- Mission Statement: One succinct and somewhat timeless sentence that states what your organization does and for whom
- Vision Statement: One succinct, inspirational, and somewhat timeless sentence that describes what the world will look like when your organization succeeds at its mission
There are two things to note about how your statements function. Firstly, you may have noticed that each statement is limited to one sentence. Simplifying your statements will make them easier to remember, focus your team and serve as a filter for decision-making. Secondly, your statements should have a cause-and-effect relationship. You want to be able to say that “If we succeed at our mission, then our vision is more likely to happen.”
Here are some real-life examples:
|Mission Statement*||Vision Statement|
|Make-a-Wish||We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.||That people everywhere will share the power of a wish.|
|American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)||To provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States.||That the United States is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.|
*Words that are bold describe what the organization does, and words in italics describe the subjects/persons that are of focus.
Need More Detail?
Sometimes, a succinct mission statement can feel too limiting for even the most focused of organizations. In that instance, I recommend that you supplement your mission and vision with a brief bulleted list to provide a little more depth.
For example, here’s the mission and vision of Good Center Gracenter, which added an additional section to its mission statement to be featured in a few publications. It looks something like this:
“To help women without resources break free from drug and alcohol addiction and create a hopeful future for themselves and others.
We do this by offering:
- Transitional housing for women that provides a safe, supportive community incorporating the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in order to promote peace and harmony in their lives.
- Recovery mentoring and the promotion of whole-person wellness.
- Paths to higher education, skill-building, and sustainable employment.
- Opportunities to practice the principles of restorative justice by taking responsibility for one’s actions and making amends that can lead to a transformation of people, relationships, and community.”
How to Do This Exercise With Your Team
What’s most important is how to put this into practice with your team.
Engaging your team members in your mission and vision statements is an excellent way to keep them involved with the process. They serve as auditors for the organization. At your next staff meeting, I recommend you ask, “What does our organization do? Who does our organization serve? And what will our community/world look like when our organization succeeds?”
Once you’ve gotten your staff’s input, appoint a small committee to draft your mission and vision statements. This is where you use the mission and vision formula I provided.
Now that your committee has a solid draft, it’ll present it to the staff and board for feedback. Go through these steps as much as needed until you’ve finalized your mission and vision. Remember, each organization is unique, and its mission and vision statements will be just as unique and nuanced.
Eric Ryan has dedicated 25 years of his professional life to service. He is the co-founder of Mission Met, a company devoted to making strategic planning easier and more effective for nonprofit and organizational leaders around the world. Although he has focused on serving small nonprofits, Eric has also consulted with numerous corporations and government entities.
In addition to his consulting work, he has started one nonprofit, been an executive director, and served on several boards as both treasurer and board chair. He led the creation of nonprofit strategic planning software, Causey, and is the author of "Mission Met: Proven Strategic Planning Guidance to Help You Build a Financially Secure and Impactful Nonprofit."