Creating an Effective Mission Statement

Copyright 2017

Many organizations spend a lot of time and money creating mission statements, to highlight their work and align employees around a common vision. But the fact is that many mission statements fail, becoming nothing more than a wall ornament or a bunch of words tucked into a seldom-read company handbook.

Important Factors

Studies have found that organizations show consistently higher performance when their mission statements include these items:  

  •   A statement of values;
  •   A statement of vision;
  •   Specification of behavioral standards;
  •   Identification of the organization's competitive strategy; and
  • Intent to satisfy the needs and expectations of multiple stakeholder groups.

For the most part, the reasons the statements fail are pretty straightforward:

  • Fuzzy, non-specific language; interchangeable goals or visions that can be adopted by any company;
  • lack of true, prolonged leadership support;
  • and poor implementation.

Still, every not-for-profit organization, big or small, should have a mission statement. Why?

1. It's a compass that lets members, supporters and employees know what the organization stands for and where it's headed.

2. It builds member loyalty and mobilizes people passionately behind a common cause.

3. It defines the organization's collective personality, provides clear direction and most of all, gets results.

But these things are only true if the mission statement is properly written and prominently displayed on your organization's website, brochures and other materials.

Here are a few elements to consider when writing a mission statement:

  • Target Audience. This might include members, employees, contributors and the community. The mission statement can be targeted at a combination of these groups or just one of them.
  • Length. Some mission statements are only a single sentence, while others are very long, and encompass visions, philosophies, objectives, plans, and strategies. Generally, it's best to come up with something in the middle that's concise and easy to understand and actionable -- a document your organization will actually use to make decisions.
  • Tone. Establishing the correct tone involves a process of intentional word selection. If the language is too flowery and cumbersome, a great mission statement may not be taken seriously. Use appropriate language that's directed at the target audience and reflects the makeup of the organization.
  • Endurance. A mission statement should be able to withstand the test of time and, ultimately, have meaning in the long-term picture of the organization. By the same token, a mission statement should also remain current to reflect changes in your not-for-profit group and its environment. A statement created years ago may no longer be relevant.
  • Uniqueness. Since every not-for-profit organization is different, a mission statement should be customized to reflect your needs and goals.

Effective mission statements can be a great asset to an organization. When everyone is working together toward a shared goal, the group has a better chance of being successful. Mission statements should be developed as part of a strategic planning process, starting with an analysis of your not-for-profit's culture, development, and prioritization of goals and objectives. After this process is done, the mission will become clear, making it easier to create a good mission statement.