top of page

Reviewing and Restating the Mission Statement

“I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30) Read this article for examples of loosely written or vague mission statements by nonprofit organizations, their own critique and struggle to improve upon them and the questions and suggestions offered by an expert on the subject. Jesus beautifully and succinctly stated his own mission in John 5:30. Introduction An external review can identify ways a mission statement seems to communicate poorly, but it cannot identify what a good mission statement would be for a particular parish. The best it can do is to point out some questions that the parish might need to ask to craft an effective statement of its mission.

The various samples shown below come from Synthesis Partners and the keyboard of Sam Frank in a contest they sponsored a couple of years ago in mission statement excellence. In each example there is the present mission statement, followed by a short critique by the agency themselves and questions or suggestions by Sam Frank on how to improve upon the mission statement. Purpose of a Mission Statement A mission statement can have a combination of objectives: Externally it can:

  • Attract and hold attention (differentiation, branding, positioning)

  • Present the essence of the case for giving

Internally it can:

  • Inspire stakeholders

  • Provide clarity, focus and a reference point for prioritization

  • Strengthen strategic thinking

  • Structure planning

  • Suggest metrics

Characteristics of a Mission Statement

  • To be most effective, a mission statement should be:

  • Simply stated, eloquent and concise

  • Memorable, differentiating and compelling

  • Appropriately focused (balancing specificity and breadth)

To serve these purposes, a mission statement should say why the parish exists and what it is, but should avoid getting into what it does. That level of detail can follow the statement of mission. Examples 1. An academic research center Mission statement: To enhance multilateral responses to global problems, including: conflict, humanitarian crises, and recovery; international security challenges, including weapons proliferation and the changing balance of power; and resource scarcity and climate change. The case for a review: “It’s too long, covers too much ground, too abstract; we are researchers—we do solid research, produce quality reports and have real impact on international policy, but we are terrible at communications.” Questions: The statement lists what you do. What drives you to do these things? What is it about multilateral responses that are important? Perhaps start with a statement of vision, an aspirational view of the future, and see if that suggests some direction for mission. How do you select issues? If you primarily serve as a resource for funded projects, how do you decide which projects are appropriate? If your mission is to shape international policy through research and publication, in what direction do you want to shape it, and why? A clear sense of your mission may lie in the answers to these questions, or in the questions that those answers raise. Once you can achieve clarity, the rest of the work on a statement is just refinement. 2. Bridgers of the digital divide Mission statement: [institute] is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit charitable institution based in [place] that is dedicated to empowering hardworking economically disadvantaged students to bridge the digital divide and advance their academic and personal achievements by awarding them home PC computers. This is achieved by collecting donated computers, refurbishing, and reusing computers thereby extending their useful lives and reducing e-waste. The case for a makeover: “Our organization does great work, but our mission is wordy and confusing. We want a statement that best reflects the impact we make in [state] even as a small nonprofit. Our mission is very tangible yet has lasting impacts. Our mission is very robotic and we are much more of a fun and geeky crowd.” Questions: Let’s start with some pruning. There seem to be two central concepts: 1) Empowering hardworking economically disadvantaged students to bridge the digital divide 2) Refurbishing, and reusing computers to reducing e-waste This trimming gets you from 59 to 19 words; the rest is detail that can be noted elsewhere. Are both of these elements the essence of your mission? Or is #2 a side benefit? Would you be just as committed to your work if there were no computer recycling involved? Would you be just as committed if hardware were available elsewhere and crossing the digital divide required tutoring in software? Depending on your answers to these questions, either #1 is close to a mission statement or perhaps you do #2 in order to achieve #1. 3. Children’s services Mission statement: [org]’s mission is to ensure that children have the fundamental assets they need to thrive: a safe and secure home life; educational excellence and opportunity ; and health and sexuality education. The case for a makeover: “The mission statement as it stands is way too long. We need a statement that our employees can remember, something pithy and impactful. ” Questions: The initial phrase of your current statement (“to ensure that children have the fundamental assets they need to thrive”) sounds like a broad statement of mission, but then to focus it more, you resort to what and how, rather than why. There are two promising phrases at the end of the history section of your website: “strengthen families and reduce the need for foster care [by] address[ing] the underlying causes of families in crisis” This may be a mission statement. What do you think? We can discuss this using the comment feature. 4. Collaborative improvement initiative Mission statement: The [org]’s mission is to empower and improve the quality of life for [area] residents through catalytic investments and systematic change. The case for a makeover: “The [org]’s mission statement is an excellent candidate for a makeover because as a Living Cities Integration Initiative site, our work is unlike many other NPOs, who focus on one or two issues. We are focused on creating change across the public, private and philanthropic sectors through collaborative efforts in eight different areas in three short years. Our work is centered on causing this change in several adjacent neighborhoods that have drastically different socio-economic populations, built environments and private investment levels. At the center of our work are the people who make up the community we are working hard to serve. While our current mission statement reflects a very broad overview of what we do, it truly doesn’t express the difference our work strives to make for the people living and working in the [area]. As a project that is operating under the guidance of ten different organizations across a variety of sectors, we would like to learn how to develop a mission statement that address the global work of the project equally influenced by the collective work of all the organizations that make up our Governance Council. ” Questions: Actually, “to improve the quality of life for [area] residents through catalytic investments and systematic change” seems to capture your mission quite well as you describe it in your makeover case. The other aspects of your effort—your disparate partners, sectors, and neighborhoods, the individual identities on your Governance Council, and your short time frame—can be captured in subsidiary statements that elaborate on the mission statement. If you try to say more in the base statement, you may just weaken its impact. Often the best approach is to always post the mission statement (in print or on your website) with additional clarifying information: statements of vision, values, and/or principles, listings of your communities, council members and other partners, and some of the initiatives you have in process. If this doesn’t sound like it’s the approach you need, let’s discuss through the blog’s comment feature and see what else we can discover. 5. Technology provider Mission statement: [org] is committed to assisting Jewish organizations in their efforts increase their professionalism and relationship-building capacity through the effective use of technology, by providing internet strategy, general technology, marketing and communications consulting, training and professional development opportunities. [org] believes that every Jewish organization should have the opportunity to function at this high level, regardless of the size of the organization or its budget, and we work to reduce barriers to achieving this level of service to their customers, members and prospects. The case for a makeover: “We have made a strategic shift in the last couple years, but the mission statement has not been updated. I feel it says more about our services than our mission. And completely does not capture the uniqueness of our work and impact in our field.” Questions: One simple and effective technique is to describe conversationally to an uninformed friend or relative what you’re trying to achieve. By listening to what you say, and by answering the basic questions you get in that conversation, you can often discover the nuggets you need for your more formal communications. You’ve begun to do that in your case for a makeover. What is the strategic shift you have made, and why did you make it? What do you do differently? What are your most fundamental services within your list of “internet strategy, general technology, marketing and communications consulting, training and professional development opportunities”? Why? In what way are you unique? What is your impact? You can pursue these questions on your own, or if you’d like to use the comment feature of the blog, we’ll ask you some more refined ones. 6. Design museum Mission statement: The [name] Museum of Design of the University of [x] is an educational and cultural institution that advances the understanding and appreciation of design and cultivates an awareness that designed objects can contribute to quality of life through effective solutions to human challenges and aesthetic satisfaction. The case for a makeover: “As a mission statement, it is long. [name] is an academic museum, so the staff was seeking to include connections to both the university and community in the statement. I would like to see the mission be more user-focused. ” Questions: Within your current statement is what appears to a good core: “[to] advance the understanding and appreciation of design and its contribution to quality of life”. Do you need to say more than that? Everything else seems secondary, and can be accommodated in statements that typically accompany the mission statement. “Effective solutions to human challenges and aesthetic satisfaction,” are really only two examples of the way design contributes to quality of life. Doesn’t flagging them unnecessarily restrict the mission? Suggest wording for mission statements The approach for the following eight examples is to suggest some wording for a mission statement. 7 Social enterprise Mission statement: [org] helps social enterprises understand their customers better and develop more appropriate products through collaborative relationships with local partners in developing countries. We work with a network of local partners who already have connections to diverse communities representing different geographies, socioeconomic status, and livelihoods in addition to deep understanding of local languages and cultures. This network allows us to match our social enterprise clients with their target markets with the level of depth they desire in a cost-effective manner. By consolidating demand, Root Alliance makes community-based market research and product testing affordable and accessible to our clients. The case for a makeover: “Our mission statement has a lot of information and we are having hard time to convey it in a succinct but effective manner.” Questions: All the information you need to convey does not need to be in the mission statement. This statement should restrict itself to a compelling case for why the organization exists. The mission statement is the portal for a discussion. Its task is to make people want to go through and find out more (outsiders) or to remind them why they’re involved (insiders). The essence of the long statement above seems to be “Support social enterprises in developing countries with community-based market research and product testing.” What does that misstate or leave out? 8. Community health Mission statement: [org]’s mission is to promote and champion the health and well being of all residents of our community, regardless of ability to pay, primarily through supporting excellence and innovation in the County’s hospital and clinic system. The case for a makeover: “Well, I had to look it up in order to write it down, unfortunately. And we are constantly saying ‘our mission is…’ and filling in the blanks with a variety of endings. I feel that if we had a robust and vital statement, or a something more concise/or catchy, our messaging would be much more clear!” Questions: How much of the current statement is verbal packing around the essential concept? What do you need to add to this: “Support health care delivery to all residents of San Mateo County, regardless of ability to pay”? 9. Experiential learning Mission statement: Recognizing that we are in a time of great change, [org] will collaborate with individuals and organizations to support empowering, experiential programs that develop 21st century life skills in interested 6-8th grade students in [name] County. The case for a makeover: “I wonder if it’s engaging/succinct enough to be effective in attracting support for our cause.” Questions: Here is the message in fewer than half the words. “To support experiential programs that develop 21st century life skills in middle school students.” Does it leave out any essentials, or just flourishes? 10. Low income students Mission statement: [org]’s mission is to transform the lives of accomplished high school students from low- income families by broadening their dreams and preparing them for college success. The case for a makeover: “It has been mentioned by several board members that we need to change our mission statement.” Questions: It would be helpful to know what changes your trustees think are needed. Here’s the message in half the words. What does this miss? [org] prepares low-income, high-achieving high school students for success in college and beyond 11. Wildlife Mission statement: [org] is a nonprofit wild animal sanctuary and educational facility. We are dedicated to the lifetime care of abused, neglected, confiscated or unwanted wild animals to prevent them from being destroyed and education of the public to reduce human-wildlife conflicts. The case for a makeover: “WAY too wordy – but how do we possibly say it more smoothly?!” Questions: There are two missions here, remediation and prevention: “lifetime care of abused or unwanted wild animals and education to reduce human-wildlife conflicts” Is that a statement of your mission? 12. Mobility Mission statement: [org] is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to Expanding Horizons for persons with disabilities, and Maximizing Potential for disadvantaged persons by providing support in resolving personal transportation issues. The case for a makeover: “I find that this statement is too hard to follow and does not flow. We are pretty much a startup non profit and I think if this was worded better we may draw in more donations.” Questions: Is your target population persons with disabilities, disadvantaged people, or both? Beyond that question, it’s not fully clear what you’re trying to do. The best we can do at this point still preserves that vagueness:

  • [org] provides transportation options for disadvantaged persons

  • [org] expands the horizons of disadvantaged persons through transportation options

Let’s see if we can discuss this a bit and get more focused. 13. Addiction Mission statement: [org]’s Mission is to lead, unify and empower addiction focused professionals to achieve excellence through education, advocacy, knowledge, standards of practice, ethics, professional development and research. The case for a makeover: “Our mission statement, adopted in 1998 has a lot of buzzwords, but doesn’t really capture who we are and what our focus is.” Questions: What is your focus? The first thought that comes to mind is to combine your current mission and vision statements and edit down a bit: To support addiction professionals in promoting the health and recovery of individuals, families and communities. What else do you need to include? 14. Jazz Mission statement: The [name] Jazz Orchestra brings jazz for large orchestra of the highest quality, with full artistic integrity and in all its diversity for a national and international public Question: Is your mission “To create and present innovative, diverse orchestral jazz throughout the world?” High quality and artistic integrity might well be assumed. “Diversity” might need some clarification.


bottom of page