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Getting Perspective on Your Mission Statement

BY: Jonathan KaufmanON: 10.19.2023

Every nonprofit has a mission statement, so you’d think it’d be pretty easy to create a good one, but that’s not the case.

In fact, mission statements really trip people up and I see far more bad ones than great ones. Often, leaders become fixated on making them short and pithy, obsessively cutting down words and ideas to achieve a standard of brevity and marketing flash. Here’s the thing: mission statements can be longer than most people realize. You don't need to memorize them word for word or recite them from a script. What truly matters is grasping the essence.

Memorization is only crucial when you're selling the statement itself; and it’s usually the vision you’re selling. The vision statement captures the inspiration for why you do what you do, painting a picture of a better world that team members, partners, and donors are eager to get behind. A mission statement, on the other hand, lays out the strategic value-add that your organization offers to make that picture of a better world possible; it’s the “what” and the “how” to your vision statement’s “why.”

And that temptation to endlessly edit mission statements before adopting one? It's like meticulously crafting a tattoo you're about to get. But here's the twist: your mission statement isn't permanent ink; it's a dynamic tool for a specific moment in time.

We believe mission statements should be revisited and potentially overhauled during strategic planning sessions, typically every three to five years. Why? Because they should align with the most impactful way to contribute to your vision at that moment. It might be similar to what you've done before, or it might be radically different.

So, don't fret over every word in your mission statement. It's designed to keep you focused on what you do for now, but with a giant caveat: when the world or your context shifts, you might need to adapt. You don't want to be over-committed to a mission. Instead, stay unwavering in your commitment to your vision and allow your mission statement to evolve as you and your organization evolve.

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