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Mission Statement is Mission Critical

By Lori Sampson

Donor management systems, social media campaigns, peer-to-peer fundraisers….there are so many trending tools available to nonprofits these days it’s easy to overlook one of the most basic tools available to a charity—its mission statement. If it’s been a few years since you’ve taken a hard look at your mission statement, now is a good time to take pause and reflect on your current statement.

A powerful mission statement is more than a great slogan. It should tell the world who you are and what you stand for. It can motivate staff and supporters.

It’s tempting to offer the world a sweeping statement that covers all potential benefits and activities your organization might ever engage in.  The risk with an overly grandiose or broad mission statement is that it leaves potential supporters wondering exactly who you are helping and how. The same holds true for statements full of jargon or complex phrases.

If someone unfamiliar with your organization read your mission statement, would they understand your goals and beneficiaries? Could they guess what volunteering or donating to your organization would achieve?  Keep in mind, potential supporters may be reading your mission statement on a website like Charity Navigator, Guidestar, or the IRS tax-exempt organization search tool without the benefit of your supporting marketing materials.

Another test for your statement is to consider whether it points to an endgame for your organization.  Does the statement convey your mission so sufficiently that people would understand how the world or their community would be different if you accomplished your purpose?

Your mission statement should be able to serve as a vital guide for your board and staff.  It can make you more goal-driven and allow you to say “no” to activities that, no matter how worthy, are not going to advance your purpose.

Those are some very basic tests for your mission statement. If you find yours needs a little refurbishment, Donorbox offers these five steps to reworking a nonprofit mission statement.

  1. Get a focus group of stakeholders together and led by an impartial moderator.
  2. Have small teams or individuals in the group write out stories of your organization’s impact and success stories.
  3. Identify the people, places, actions and problems that consistently come up.
  4. Put each of the common concepts and phrases into one of the following categories:  actions, targeted beneficiaries, services, problems, and partners. These are the building blocks of your statement.
  5. Using actions and beneficiaries identified by your group, craft a few mission statements for your group to consider. Donorbox recommends using no more than 4 or 5 of the building blocks identified in step 4. Hone the statements until the group agrees on the perfect fit for your organization. Once you’ve selected your statement go back and ask the questions broached earlier in this article. Will this statement guide, inspire, and explain? Is it memorable and easy to understand?

This is just one suggested process to land on the perfect mission statement. No matter your approach to refining your mission statement, it’s worth the time and effort to make sure yours is performing as it should.

An updated mission statement may be just what your organization needs to kick off the New Year with renewed vigor and purpose.

Lori Sampson is a partner with Myers, Brettholtz & Company, PA and manages the accounting services department.  She has more than 25 years of experience in public and private accounting and is the firm's leading authority for QuickBooks support, aligning information technology with business objectives, and budgeting.

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