Ah, the nonprofit mission statement. Is there any aspect of your organization’s strategy that generates more attention, scrutiny or debate?
Mission statements are the star of the strategy show at many nonprofits, and for good reason. Your mission statement is the very foundation on which your nonprofit’s day-to-day work is built. Get it right, and your mission statement can ensure everyone in your organization is marching in the same direction, toward the same intended impact. Get it wrong, and you’re likely to see your organization fail to do all it can to help the people and communities you serve.
That’s why we’ve created this Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Mission Statements. Inside, you’ll find:
- What is a Nonprofit Mission Statement?
- How Is a Nonprofit Mission Statement Different from a Vision Statement?
- What Other Strategic Elements Should Accompany a Nonprofit Mission and Vision Statement?
- How to Create a Nonprofit Mission Statement (With Sample Exercises)
- How to Build Your Mission into Your Nonprofit’s Culture
- Nonprofit Mission Statement Examples
- Related Resources
What is a Nonprofit Mission Statement?
Definition: Nonprofit Mission Statement
The work you are doing every day to drive toward your vision — what you do, who you do it for, and the intended impact.
Effective nonprofit mission statements are:
- Based on core competencies: they reflect what your organization is actually good at, not just its future aspirations.
- Motivating and inspiring: they compel people to get involved in supporting your work, whether as program participants, staff or board members, donors or volunteers.
- Realistic: they can actually conceivably be achieved in the not-too-distant future.
- Clear: they use precise, everyday language and avoid ambiguity or hyperbole.
- Focused on the present: they define what you will do today to reach your vision in the future.
- Tactical: they focus more on how you make a difference than why (leave why to your vision).
- Unique: while two organizations can have a very similar vision, no two should have the same mission.
- Specific: they describe a particular change your organization is working to drive in no uncertain terms.
How Is a Nonprofit Mission Statement Different from a Vision Statement?
We define a vision statement as the world your organization would create if it achieved all its goals. With this definition in mind, it’s easy to see that a vision statement is future-casting, while a mission statement is about the here and now. A vision statement focuses on your end game, while a mission statement focuses on the road you’ll need to take to arrive there.
Another distinction that seems to help many organizations is that a mission statement is focused on how you’ll create a certain sort of change, while a vision statement is focused on why. Our friends at OnStrategy have more great information on the difference between mission statements and vision statements here.
What Other Strategic Elements Should Accompany a Nonprofit Mission and Vision Statement?
In addition to a mission and vision statement, all nonprofits should have several other foundational strategic elements in place, and re-evaluate them regularly. At minimum, this should include:
Core values are a set of guiding principles that shape the behavior and decision making of everyone on a nonprofit’s team.
Reason for Being
A reason for being describes the specific sort of impact your organization is positioned to make that no other nonprofit can achieve in quite the same way.
A strategic plan outlines your nonprofit’s priorities for the future. Strategic planning asks your staff and board to evaluate your nonprofit’s vision and mission, and then to determine the most important things you need to do to advance both over the next 3-5 years by establishing pillars, objectives and key results.
How to Create a Nonprofit Mission Statement (With Sample Exercises)
Step One: Engage Your Stakeholders
The first step in creating a nonprofit mission statement is to think through how you want to engage your nonprofit’s stakeholders. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with our Shared Power StrategyTM philosophy. Rather than sitting in a closed room with board and staff members to brainstorm and debate your mission statement, consider opening your doors to external stakeholders, especially the people who use or stand to benefit from your nonprofit’s programs and services. Ask for their input on your mission. After all, your mission only exists to serve them. You may also want to engage other stakeholders, such as donors, partners, community members, families, etc. Then, design a process for both capturing their perspectives on your existing mission (if you have one), and working hand-in-hand with your team to shape a new mission statement.
Step Two: Use Mission Statement Exercises To Get Wheels Turning
Every time we do mission work with a nonprofit, we choose the right exercises for their group and organization type from an extensive library. Here are a few that your team may wish to borrow in order to get the discussion started.
Nonprofit Mission Statement Example Exercise 1: Likes and Dislikes
As you did with your vision statement, gather a list of 5-10 example mission statements (see some ideas later in this post, and add more of your own from within your subsector). Then ask your group to consider these examples and articulate what they like and dislike about them.
Nonprofit Mission Statement Example Exercise 2: Outline a Feature Story
Ask participants to outline a feature story about your organization that could be written 10 years from now. Choose the media outlet, sketch out the photo, and include bullets with the key points. See an example above. Then, share your stories with the larger group and look for common themes. This exercise can be done individually or in breakout groups.
Nonprofit Mission Statement Example Exercise 3: Our Best Work
Ask participants to write a short paragraph explaining what it looks like when your organization is doing its best work. Paint a picture of that ideal day: who is doing what, what sort of impact is their work making, and how does it feel? Then, ask everyone to codify their stories as follows:
Next, make a list of any of the following elements that were listed multiple times, across multiple participants’ stories.
- Actions taken (what you do)
- People and communities impacted (who you do it for)
- Changes driven/impact made (outcomes)
These elements should be kept top of mind as you draft your mission statement.
Step Three: Draft Collaboratively
Once your group has warmed up with exercises like those above, it’s time to get to work on drafting potential mission statements. If you have a large group involved in the work, it’s typically best to break into groups of 2-4 individuals initially, and then come back together to review and build upon each others’ work.
As you work through early rough drafts, it can be helpful to use a “fill in the blanks” mission statement format like the ones below:
That said, don’t be afraid to deviate from the templates if it feels natural. Just be sure that your mission statement includes the three key elements described above: what you do, who you do it for, and its intended impact.
Once small groups present their ideas, you’ll likely have several different mission statements with elements you want to incorporate or build upon. Take some time to try different approaches and tweak your mission statement until your group feels good about it.
Step Four: Get Stakeholder Input
Ideally, a diverse group of stakeholders will have been involved in the act of crafting your mission statement, as described in step three. But that still doesn’t mean you’ve gotten all the stakeholder feedback you should. Since your mission statement is one of the most important strategic elements in your nonprofit’s toolbox, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing all you can to cast a wide net for stakeholder feedback. Consider giving stakeholders the opportunity to provide feedback via an anonymous survey, listening sessions or focus groups, direct interview conversations and more. By creating a number of channels for stakeholder input, you’ll make more people feel comfortable and safe providing honest feedback, even if its critical. For more ideas about how to incorporate stakeholder input, see our stakeholder audit and engagement tool.
Step Five: Fine Tune
Once you’ve exhausted all potential avenues for stakeholder feedback, it’s time to take what you learned and fine-tune your mission statement into a clear, crisp articulation of the work your nonprofit is doing every day to drive toward its vision. At this point, it should be abundantly clear what your stakeholders want from your nonprofit, and the specific role your organization can play in addressing their priorities. Now, it’s just about wordsmithing and ensuring that the words you’re using to describe your work can be easily understood by everyone who matters to your nonprofit.
How to Build Your Mission into Your Nonprofit’s Culture
Yes, articulating a clear mission is only a small part of the challenge. The real work comes in when it’s time to operationalize your mission, and ensure that it’s baked into every aspect of your nonprofit’s culture.
Your mission should penetrate all aspects of your organization – from finance to human resources, program staff to board leadership. Your organization should be living, breathing, sleeping and eating your mission.
Integrating mission and culture is hard work, and there are no shortcuts. It requires strong leadership, strategic staffing and board recruitment, and daily actions both small and large from team members at all levels. That said, here are a couple ideas of things your nonprofit can do right now to get started:
- Make your mission known. Build learning about your mission into the employee training and onboarding process. Add your mission to email signature lines, internal signage, employee swag and business cards. Basically make it impossible for your staff and board members NOT to know your mission statement by heart.
- Implement mission workshops. Your most important asset is your people, so take the time to invest in their understanding of the beliefs that form the foundation for your mission. Consider crafting different workshops for different departments to help them understand your organization’s mission in the context of their work, and practice real-world scenarios where mission might impact their decision making.
- Celebrate mission moments. In strong organizations, staff and board members are doing things every single day to advance your mission. Rather than letting these moments pass by unnoticed, have your HR team create an acknowledgement system for celebrating and publicizing mission moments across your organization. You may even consider setting up a method for employees to anonymously recognize their co-workers for doing things that exemplify your organization’s mission. There is nothing like positive reinforcement and recognition to get people fired up about living out an important mission.
Nonprofit Mission Statement Examples
Below, we’ve rounded up 20+ nonprofit mission statement examples to illustrate the different ways nonprofits choose to craft their mission statements and articulate their impact. You’ll find vision statement examples for these same organizations here.
- Feeding America’s Mission: Our mission is to advance change in America by ensuring equitable access to nutritious food for all in partnership with food banks, policymakers, supporters, and the communities we serve.
- Ronald McDonald House Charities’ Mission: The mission of RMHC is to create, find and support programs that directly improve the health and wellbeing of children.
- Boys & Girls Club of America’s Mission: To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.
- The King Center’s Mission: Our mission is to empower people to create a just, humane, equitable and peaceful world by applying Dr. King’s nonviolent philosophy and methodology (Nonviolence365).
- World Wildlife Fund’s Mission: Leverage sound science to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.
- Sierra Club’s Mission: To explore, enjoy and protect the planet. To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out those objectives.
- ASPCA’s Mission: To provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States.
- Habitat for Humanity’s Mission: To put God’s love in action for the betterment of the community and bringing people together to build homes and keep hope alive.
- Catholic Charities USA’s Mission: To provide service to people in need, to advocate for justice in social structures, and to call the entire church and other people of good will to do the same.
- St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Mission: To advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment.
- Global Fund for Women’s Mission: We fund bold, ambitious, and expansive gender justice movements to create meaningful change that will last beyond our lifetimes.
- United Way’s Mission: United Way seeks to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world to advance the common good.
- The Y’s Mission: To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.
- Comer Education Campus’ Mission: We prepare young people for college, careers and futures as well-rounded, global citizens.
- Arrowleaf’s Mission: Arrowleaf’s mission is to help all Southern Illinoisans reach their full potential. We provide resources and opportunities that support individuals of all ages so they can thrive, make our communities more vibrant, and build economic prosperity that benefits everyone.
- Ignite’s Mission: Ignite stands with youth on their journey to a home and a future with promise.
- American Cancer Society’s Mission: The American Cancer Society’s mission is to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer.
- Make-a-Wish’s Mission: The mission of the Make-A-Wish Foundation is to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.