There is no component of your nonprofit brand more important than your mission.
Why? Because a nonprofit mission statement is far more than simply marketing language. The best nonprofit mission statements function like a strategic compass, guiding every decision an organization makes and every activity it pursues. They drive internal focus, external support, and most importantly, they improve your ability to positively impact the causes and communities you serve.
Is your nonprofit mission statement achieving its strategic potential?
If not, here are four diverse nonprofit mission statements dissected (two highly effective and two, well…not) to inspire you as you rethink yours.
- It’s specific. It would be easy for the Nature Conservancy to get distracted by issues like animal rights and wildlife preservation, but the specificity of this mission statement keeps the organization focused on its key areas of impact: land and water.
- It explains why. The Nature Conservancy’s work doesn’t just matter to people who love the outdoors. As the mission statement explains, ALL life on earth depends on the conservation of land and water. And that gives everyone a reason to care about the organization’s work.
- It’s concise. This mission statement is a revision on a previous version The Nature Conservancy used for many years, and the biggest difference between the new and the old is length. Every word matters in this mission statement, which makes it more memorable and more resonant.
“The mission of NPR is to work in partnership with Member Stations to create a more informed public — one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.”
- It alludes to a future ideal. The heart of this mission statement comes down to four words: a more informed public. That’s the ideal NPR is working toward every single day, and they can test every story they’re considering covering, every interview they’re considering booking, and every fundraising campaign they’re considering running against it. Again and again, they can ask themselves: will this activity further our goal of creating a more informed public?
- It is emotionally stirring. NPR could have ended their mission statement just before the dash without losing any of its literal meaning. But that would have caused the statement to lose its power. The second part of this mission statement (“one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures”) uses emotional adjectives to illustrate exactly what it feels like to engage with NPR’s coverage, and that’s where its real value comes in.
- It acknowledges the larger whole. Like any federated organization or nonprofit with a community of affiliates should, NPR recognizes that its mission is advanced through its partner stations. That gives those affiliates a direct stake in the parent organization’s mission and empowers them to make it their own.
“The mission of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is to cure cystic fibrosis and to provide all people with the disease the opportunity to lead full, productive lives by funding research and drug development, promoting individualized treatment and ensuring access to high-quality, specialized care.”
- It mixes mission and vision. Your vision is the world you hope to create as a result of achieving your mission. Your mission is the work you’re doing every day to progress toward that vision. The two statements are inextricably linked, but that doesn’t mean they should be mixed into one. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s mission statement loses its power by trying to do double duty and incorporate too much vision language. It’s hard to reconcile their mission to cure cystic fibrosis (which should actually be their vision) with their mission to help people with the disease live better lives.
- It lacks filters. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is a foundation, so the organization is constantly making important decisions about who and what to fund. But this mission statement provides no context for the filters through which funding decisions are made. Surely, the organization doesn’t fund all research and drug development, but this mission statement provides no guidance on decision making.
“TEMPUS Unlimited exists to provide a continuum of community-based services that support the efforts of children and adults with disabilities to live as independently as possible in the least restrictive environment.
Through personal involvement, individual decision-making is supported and encouraged to enhance the control of a person over their own lives and foster self-sufficiency.
The agency through its programs and services encourages the inclusion of people with disabilities into the mainstream of society including social, recreational, family and work activities.”
- It’s full of jargon. What does continuum of community-based services mean to TEMPUS Unlimited’s average stakeholder? How about personal involvement? Jargon is the fastest way to lose the attention of an employee, volunteer, or prospective donor or partner, and as soon as you lose their attention, you diminish their potential to advance your mission.
- It tries to do too much. Is TEMPUS Unlimited devoted to improving the inclusion of people with disabilities in mainstream society, or are they focused on improving independence and self-sufficiency? They can’t do both, at least not in equal measure, and this nonprofit mission statement fails to provide clarity and focus.
- It’s long and repetitive. The length of this nonprofit mission statement is probably the first thing you noticed. While there are a few exceptions to this rule, most effective nonprofit mission statements are just a single sentence. Since each sentence in this mission statement essentially says the same thing in a different way, it should definitely be streamlined.
Does your nonprofit mission statement need work? If so, it’s probably part of a larger brand and messaging problem.
Download our free resource, The New Nonprofit Brand Scorecard, to determine whether your brand needs work and learn how smart branding drives strategy.
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