December 18, 2014


Creating effective mission and vision statements starts with asking questions

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Just about every nonprofit has both a mission and a vision statement. They are seen on websites and brochures and required in grant applications. Ask anyone at a nonprofit, and they will either be able to recite the mission and vision statements or at least tell you where to find them. Yet, very often, creating effective mission and vision statements remains elusive.                                                                         © Shutterstock 

Many nonprofits do not even realize their mission and vision statement could be far off the mark and not as effective as they hoped. Often mission and vision statements are too long, cumbersome and full of jargon. While they should be used primarily for internal communication with staff, board of directors and other stakeholders, they should still be easy to read, recite and understand.

If you have a mission or vision statement that is paragraphs long, it is time to scale back. If you cannot easily recite the statement to someone outside the organization and have it make sense, then it falls short. If, when you recite the statements you then have to explain the jargon and no one understand what it is you truly do, it is time for a change. 

What's the difference between a mission and vision statement? 

A mission statement is your reason for being; it is what the organization does and sometimes how it does it. It is the overarching statement of purpose for the organization. It should not be a list of services or too broad in nature. You need to strike the right balance in summing up the organization's reason for being without limiting the organization to a detailed list of services. If the geographic scope is important to your organization or a particular cause or client base defines the organization, consider including these items for greater clarity. 

A vision statement is what the world looks like if you achieved your mission. For most organizations, it is an almost unreachable goal and describes the end result that can be accomplished through the nonprofit's great work. Ideally, the vision statement should be shorter in length and much broader in scope than the mission statement. 

Timing of reviewing and revising

There is no set standard for reviewing and revising mission and vision statements. However, a good standard to live by is every time you do a new strategic plan. If your organization has not done a strategic plan, nonprofits should engage in strategic planning every three to five years. That is usually the perfect time to see if the mission and vision statements continue to reflect the direction and purpose of the organization. 

Creation

There are a few basic steps to creating/ revising a mission and vision statement. First, consider your latest strategic plan, and check to see if they are all in congruence with each other. Next, have a serious and frank conversation about the mission and vision statements with your board of directors, staff, volunteers and other stakeholders. See if they resonate still. Do they make sense to stakeholders? Do stakeholders understand them?  This simple exercise can yield a lot of valuable information about their effectiveness and what changes might need to take place. If it is time to revise, answer the questions below. 

Consider the following questions when creating language for your mission statement. 

  • What is the purpose of the organization, and what does it hope to accomplish?
  • How does it go about accomplishing its purpose for being?
  • Who or what cause do you focus on?
  • What values or beliefs guide the organization?   

To begin creating the vision statement, answer these questions. 

  • What would the world look like if the mission of the organization were achieved?
  • What positive changes would need to happen in society for the organization to be out of business?
  • What would the world be like for those you serve on the day you could close up shop and claim your organization achieved everything it set out to do?   

Remember to keep the statements brief, clear and concise, as well as free from jargon. The mission and vision statements should have a flow between them. When you have your final drafts, it should be easy to read the mission and readily understand why the organization exists and then easily see the outcome reflected in the vision statement. These take practice to write and many revisions. 

Stacy Jones is a senior project director at SHOESTRING: the nonprofit's agency, and is located in San Antonio, TX.  Stacy can be reached at nonprofitexperts@shoestringagency.org or 1-888-835-6236.

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