Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Mission Statement and Why It's So Important

I've heard nonprofit colleagues refer to mission statements, in general, as b.s.

I'm of another mind.

I'm not a 'pie in the sky' or 'starry eyed' idealist about mission statements. I happen to believe that a well thought out, investigated, and hashed out mission statement can both inform clients, volunteers, the board, and staff; and it can direct the organization's work, growth, planning, PR/marketing, and fundraising, etc. Why do I think that mission statements can be this critical and valuable? Because I've seen the mission be just that; critical and invaluable to its organization.

As a few of my former colleagues do, some may think that mission statements are nothing more than something to post on the office wall, wishful thinking, or antiquated notions of a long-gone founder; you already have a need for a really good mission statement. You don't think so? Check this out...

__ To raise money well you need to set your organization apart from others in your field, or cause, who do the same kind of nonprofit work. There's plenty of room for various nonprofits to work on the same cause; it's imperative, though, that each nonprofit be meeting a unique need and not all doing the exact same work. Collaboration, by the way, is not doing the same work - it's uniting resources, experience, and effort to work towards a mutual goal. Collaboration is effective. Doing what others are already doing well is futile. Specialize by becoming really effective at your organization's niche!

__ You need your clients, volunteers, board, donors, and the potential donors or potential board members to understand quickly in clear language what your organization does for whom or what.

__ Your volunteers, board, and staff need to understand the clearly defined reason that your organization does what it does, who or what it does that for, and what it is here to do. Everyone has to be on or get onto the same page.

__ You have an organizational chart (e.g. the board oversees the executive director, the executive director oversees the staff and volunteers, and the staff oversees volunteers on specific tasks), BUT from the volunteers on up to the board - everyone in your organization, each and all, works for the mission. Your organization's real boss is the mission statement and its goal. You work for its intent, cause, and all of every one's effort should be focused and commanded by the mission. Everyone must work together but the reason that the mission should be the boss is everyone must be focusing their individual effort to the same (clear) goal. It makes your organization much more financially efficient, effective, successful, and cohesive. Having a chain of command helps to organize the people and the work - and it needs to, but THE CAUSE and THE MISSION STATEMENT GOAL are the only reason the organization exists. The organization is not about you, your career, your neuroses, your insecurities, or your resume'. It is its own legal entity per the United States government. If you don't understand this point, ask yourself what are you really doing working with this nonprofit, if you aren't there to work for the cause as directed by (its) your mission? Once you become a part of a nonprofit - you should be there to achieve its mission goal.

The key to the effective mission statement (e.g. in order for your staff and volunteers to buy into the work, for your community to 'get' your organization, etc.) is a mission statement that is modern, given where your cause is, today and the latest thinking in your field; very thought out; it should be clear and concise; and it should state why, what is being done, and for whom as clearly as possible.

This is a very important point; no mission statement should be thought up off the cuff and used after just one discussion considering it, nor after only a single person has accepted it. The mission statement should be discussed, revamped, left to sit for a day or a week, reviewed again shortly thereafter, discussed some more, a second and third draft should come to be; and all of this should be tested. Ask colleagues in your field if they understand it's meaning, ask potential clients if it's clear; ask staff and volunteers if they agree with its meaning and intent. Listen to people's responses. Consider the feedback and go rework the mission again with your organization's leadership.

Your organization could be brand new or twenty years old; you are allowed to review your mission at any time. You don't want to either reinvent the wheel, nor ignore the need to modernize or update. Having said this, it is imperative that the organization's leadership direct this review and eventually include key staff and volunteers. It is a process and many organization have gone through it (in effective variations) to great success (e.g. better fundraising). I strongly recommend either hiring a very reputable nonprofit consultant who has successful experience in mission update or strategic planning. Ask nonprofit colleagues who they've used, contact your local United Way or professional nonprofit affiliation if they know of a good consultant that they could recommend. Do research and investigate before hiring anyone.

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