Have You: Created a Mission Statement?
So often I’m asked to comment on things that are strategic. And it can be extremely tough to navigate that thin line between advising on legal strategy and stepping over into business strategy. For example, when helping with formation I may get asked about name choice or strategic planning; both of which I feel are more synonymous with business strategy. But there are those unique times where the legal and business strategies intersect; drafting a mission statement happens to be one them.
The roles a mission statement can play are infinite. They assist with fundraising, help ensure brand and programming continuity, guide the goals of an organization, etc. But mission statement’s also play an important legal role. They help shape the legal duties and obligations of the Board and staff and guide the type of programming/fundraising/operations an organization must carry out.
Because these small, but powerful, statements can be so multi-faceted in terms of purpose and use I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned through being tasked to comment on them.
Things to Think About
- Unfortunately far too many organizations approach mission statements as an administrative hurdle; just something to get through and as quickly as possible. But in addition to your legal entity structure, a mission statement is the bedrock of an organization. It tells people why you exist.
- Avoid mistaking the mission statement for the vision statement. A vision statement focuses on your hopes, dreams, aspirations. The mission statement not only addresses this, but the intended beneficiaries and describes how the organization plans to go about carrying out its vision.
- Is your mission statement something that the board and staff can easily memorize and replicate? The more complicated a mission statement, the harder it is to internalize. When the Board or staff can’t internalize a mission, that’s when programs and priorities start to deviate and an organization starts to find its self in danger of legal risk.
- Do you mention you’re a nonprofit in the mission statement? The first thing people will read about you will be your mission statement. And if a tax-exempt status isn’t a marketing tool I don’t know what is. That being the case, why not highlight your nonprofit status, as well as mention your industry and location; all great marketing points and reminders.
- Recognize that a mission statement is a blue-print. It explains why an organization has come into being, but also guides when an organization should no longer exist. For this reason, organization’s should periodically review them (every 3-5 years) and ensure that it, and the organization itself, is still relevant.
- Other reasons an organization might want to re-evaluate their mission statement is to ensure it still adheres to local laws and regulations, if there’s been growth, recession or turn-over of the Board or staff or major programming shifts.
- I say this on every post and will continue to say it; BEWARE OF TEMPLATES AND GENERATORS! I am all for inspiration, but talk about something personal. A mission statement is supposed to tell people the heart and soul of your organization. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to entrust this to someone, or something, that is not knowledgeable about what I’m doing. Even more than that, I feel like the drafting exercise forces you to think through things you may not otherwise have thought about.
- The best mission statements I’ve seen were crowd-sourced documents. Passed around founders, board members, staff, etc. These definitely shouldn’t be drafted or evaluated in a vacuum.
- A mission statement must be drafted with foresight without being vague. If this is going to set a legal standard, you want to leave a little room for modification, growth or small pivots (changes). I’ve seen a few mission statements that were so specifically drafted they didn’t leave any room for change once the organization started operating, which is what will get you into trouble as some change is inherent.
- The Grantsmanship Center has a great article on how to draft a mission statement with two good examples.
- I love the points raised by The Support Center on Idealist’s website.
- The American Alliance of Museums has great points in this article, even though it’s geared more toward museums.
- Grantspace has a webinar addressing how organization’s can create clear and concise mission statements.
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