By Jennifer E. Goldman, President
I have a soft spot in my heart for nonprofit organizations. And a huge understanding of how they work…or don’t work, as is too often the case. There are so many things that can endanger the success of even the best-intended nonprofit. A poorly defined mission tops the list.
In some cases, as the organization is formed, a definitive mission is never clearly defined and the organization never even gets off the ground. In other cases, the mission is strong at the beginning as founding board members have a clear vision and purpose, but eventually erodes as new board members, who aren’t as personally tied to the original mission, attempt to redefine it over time.
Recently, I met with the leader of a 6-year old organization who wanted my company’s help with fundraising through community events. When asked what type of event she had in mind, her only response was, “The one that will bring in the most money.” As I attempted to find out what her budget was, what her financial needs were, what types of events would best relate to her mission; I accidentally drilled down to the root of the problem. She had lost sight of her mission.
As the conversation continued, I heard so many facets of that mission; each one making it a bigger, less achievable goal. While it was nice to hear how many issues she wanted her organization to solve – no one nonprofit organization can save the whole wide world. It’s altruistic, noble and sweet, but highly unrealistic and will turn off potential board members and donors.
The key to having a proper mission is similar to an elevator pitch; make it clear and concise, easily understood and, frankly, believable. Your mission statement should tell people what problem you plan to overcome or solve or what great ideal you plan to further. Following that, your vision statement should tell people how you plan to do this.
Want to know what makes a bad mission statement? Here are some fine examples: 9 Worst Mission Statements of All Time.
Now, take a look at some of the good ones: 30 Inspiring Billion Dollar Startup Company Mission Statements.
Sometimes it’s difficult to define all the wonderful things you want your nonprofit to accomplish. It’s like writing a résumé; you want to brag, but want to seem modest, but most of all you just want everyone to understand your strengths and believe in your abilities. It’s great if you and your board can achieve this together, but it’s also very common to have an objective outsider facilitate the conversation and help guide the organization to better define their mission.
You’ll be amazed at the excitement and additional support having a clear mission can garner for your nonprofit. The board and staff will be able to recite it more easily and others will understand it more readily, which means everyone starts to have a more immediate tie-in and buy-in.