On Planning – Mission as a Measuring Stick

Your nonprofit probably has a mission, vision or purpose statement. Some may have all 3 and other statements like a brand story, tag line or values statement as well. These statements are extremely powerful because they represent a shared understanding of the purpose of the organization. If you have read “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek (or watched his very popular Ted Talk) you will remember that Why is at the center of the golden circle and represents a means of alignment with others who share the belief the purpose represents. It should spill over into every aspect of nonprofit management. But does it in your organization?

Mission and purpose statements are often seen as something ornamental and aspirational. They have been drafted and occupy a prominent place on a website or entry alcove at the headquarters office and is seldom encountered otherwise. The mission becomes a piece or artwork when it really ought to function as a paintbrush. The purpose of a nonprofit should drive activity and represents the litmus test regarding whether new areas of activity should be pursued or left to some other organization or company. It should be on the lips of every employee and volunteer, and because of that it should be as simple and clear as possible to make sure it is easy to communicate, remember and apply.

Review your mission statement and, if you still have it, the context documents that were used to create it. What was the thinking behind the mission? Does the mission still represent the organization accurately? Is it as simple as possible to convey the heart of the organization’s purpose? Ask 10 people who ought to know the organization’s mission to write down the mission on a piece of paper and see what you find. There will likely be some variability, and in many cases completely different interpretations. If you find this is the case, you need to at least communicate the mission more frequently and make use of it whenever possible. If the mission is bloated and unclear, simplifying it before you take this step would be a good idea.

If the mission is short enough to function as a tag line, do versions of your logo with the mission attached and use it whenever possible. When writing housekeeping announcements or speeches, make sure to include the mission as a part of the descriptive information about the organization. When creating press releases or white papers make sure to include the mission in the descriptive information about the organization. Include it in recruitment or solicitation documents like membership applications and sponsor prospectus documents. Read it before board meetings and when taking up a decision at the board or committee the chair should ask, “Is this action we are about to take consistent with our mission?” If not, this should send up alarm bells and cause the drivers of the decision and outcomes to receive an extra layer of scrutiny if such an idea is not rejected outright.

Your mission is meant to be used, not admired. Make good use of it every day.