The word "mission" has a lot of connotations. You might think of a military maneuver requiring camo uniforms and top-secret clearance. You might think of the religious fervor of 18th-century missionaries as they spread Christianity to indigenous peoples. Or you may go straight to Mission Impossible's famous quote, "You mission, should you choose to accept it..."
What do all three of these associations have in common? Passion, drive, and direction. As you start to develop the mission statement for your nonprofit organization, you'll want to be methodical and strategic – but don't forget why you're starting this particular nonprofit in the first place.
What exactly is a nonprofit mission statement?
Fair question! Straight from Oxford Dictionary, a mission statement (/ˈmiSHən ˈstātmənt/) is a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual.
This “formal summary” may seem like a formality, but it can be a powerful tool with which to communicate your nonprofit’s value to the community, and guide the actions of your team. In essence, a mission statement is the North Star for your nonprofit.
Why does your nonprofit need a mission statement?
Two words: Team. Alignment. Your team will only be able to effectively contribute to the big picture goals of your nonprofit when they know what the big picture is. A solid mission statement will allow employees to properly prioritize tasks to best serve the nonprofit’s primary goals.
A mission statement also works like a bio on a dating site. If you go over your mission statement when meeting with a candidate, you’ll eliminate ambiguity about your values and the function of your nonprofit. This will help you both decide if you’re a good fit for each other! Since having your mission statement is so helpful to the interview process, the best time to craft your mission statement is now. You can always adjust it down the road!
Since there’s no time like the present, let’s go over our four steps to begin crafting an awesome nonprofit mission statement.
Step 1: Tell the world why you’re here and what makes you unique.
As a 501(c)(3) charity, you must pass the IRS public support test requiring that one-third of your operating budget come from the community. In order to garner this level of support, you have to clearly and concisely assert your value to the community.
Now comes the market research: are there any other organizations in your operating area doing the same work? If there are, you’ll need to include in your mission statement what makes you different. Be specific!
Your mission statement is an announcement of why you exist and what good you intend to accomplish for your community. For inspiration before you begin, here’s a list of 50 Excellent Nonprofit Mission Statements.
Step 2: Include what you do best today, then leave room for growth!
With their $20 salads, the popular restaurant chain Sweetgreen, Inc. is definitely not a nonprofit. That being said, their mission statement is a great example of how to highlight purpose:
Our mission is to inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food. We know that sweetgreen is a critical link between growers and consumers, and we feel a responsibility to protect the future of real food.
The restaurant started out with one location in Washington D.C. You’ll notice, though, that their mission statement includes nothing about “inspiring a healthier Washington D.C.” They’ve included room for growth to expand to their now 690 sweetgreen restaurants across the U.S.
Striking the balance between being too limiting and too idealistic can seem a little overwhelming. Start by defining exactly what you do today, then broaden it just enough to let your nonprofit grow into all that it can be.
Step 3: Articulate your boundaries and values.
Writing out your mission statement isn’t so different from jotting down your New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps one of your personal resolutions is to spend more time with family. You write it down, then fiercely protect that time. If you’re asked at work to stay an extra 30 minutes, you may decide to say no (even if it’s tough!) to avoid compromising on that important personal goal.
It’s the same with your nonprofit. A mission statement is at the core of your nonprofit’s integrity. Compromising on that is not an option.
Written with your values in mind, a thoughtful mission statement will guide your decision making. You’ll be less likely to take actions that don’t align with your values if you’ve articulated on paper what those values are.
Step 4: Ask for feedback!
No man is an island! Be sure to ask (and listen!) to what your employees think about the mission statement. It’s a tool that’s going to either help or hinder the whole team, so involve everyone in your writing process.
Goals and processes can and do evolve over time, so don’t stop encouraging input from your team on your mission statement. Feel free to change your mission statement if it no longer reflects your nonprofit’s values or activities.
Creating a powerful mission statement is one of the best things you can do for your nonprofit. For more tips on starting your nonprofit, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Nonprofit. *link to article when published*
You’ll also need expert financial guidance when starting any new business endeavor. Contact Know Your Numbers today to make your nonprofit dreams a reality!