Sunday, June 08, 2008

Who's The Boss At Your Nonprofit? Not the E.D. Not the Board. It's the Mission Statement!

The reason that your nonprofit exists, the reason that the IRS gave the nonprofit that you work for official nonprofit 501(c)(3) status, the reason that donors give to it, and people volunteer for it - is the mission statement. While there is a hierarchy or organizational chart - everyone involved in the organization; from the founder, to the executive director, to the volunteer folding and stuffing envelopes, to the board of directors - everyone is responsible to the mission statement. The law requires that the nonprofit be doing a majority of its work to the end goal of the organization's mission statement.

This is why it is so important that your organization's mission statement be clear, poignant, and kept up to date. It will direct, envision, clarify, speak to, and set your organization's work and importance for anyone or everyone; its clients or issue/cause, the nonprofit's volunteers, board of directors, donors, potential donors and volunteers, and for the community at large (which may not be familiar with your organization).

You may think 'mission statements are just slogans' or 'mission statements are for marketing and nothing else'. If you believe this you may not fully understand mission statements. Read my post, The Mission Statement And Why It's So Important

Why do I say that the real 'boss' at any nonprofit is the organization's mission statement? Everyone who works for a nonprofit (either as a volunteer, hired consultant, or as a paid staff member) is responsible for their assigned job or tasks as it relates to the mission statement. This is why it must be very clear. Everyone in any nonprofit can be unified by the mission statement - as long as everyone comprehends and perceives it and its meaning in the same way. Understanding the mission statement gives everyone, despite their position or place in the organizational chart, a singular unification.

If I work with you in an organization as the development director and you are the executive director you and I may disagree (as co-workers will, from time to time); but we have the mission statement to keep the common ground, despite the disagreement. For instance, you may believe that it isn't necessary to begin developing major donors, from within our established donor database. I may feel that the people who donate in larger amounts to our organization, regularly, should be both personally thanked for their leadership donations; and that we should ask them what their connection is to the nonprofit and what concerns them regarding the issue/cause. If our organization's mission statement is: "Lily pads for Life provides public education and outreach to educate, empower, and grow the public who will protect and defend lily pad species across the United States." We can agree to disagree, respect the difference in opinion, but further our discussion. I may say to you, 'part of our mission is to develop the public so they may help retain lily pad species across the U.S. This includes discussing with potential major donors what their interest is in our cause,'. You may respond, 'Our organization's focus is to educate and provide public outreach to develop these people. I'm working on programs. I don't have time to develop major donors,' Both points are valid. Both you and I are making points in relation to our specific jobs as they each relate to the mission statement. We're both plugged into it. That's good! What's actually probably going on, between you and I, is a time availability issue, more than anything else. This could be remedied by bringing a board member or two on to the development work, in lieu of the executive director, who will solely focus on (learn how, and begin) to develop the nonprofit's major donors. The board are dedicated to their responsibilities to the organization and through the mission statement have already envisioned what their roles could potentially require of them, in our community. (If you'd like to read more about board members' responsibilities read How To Be A Modern Nonprofit Board Member )

Any nonprofit has a tremendous opportunity for its cause if it takes the time to work, rework, give it some time, and then return to creating its mission statement. It should be a very clear, inclusive, and succinct explanation of your organization's work.

1 comment:

Michael L. Gooch said...

For me, it seems awful pompous of us to think that every organization is so unique and special that each one needs its own unique and special mission statement. It is so pretentious it’s painful to watch. Could you imagine the look on a trail boss’s face if you asked him for his mission statement prior to a trail drive? He might say, “What part of ‘sell these cattle in Omaha’ do you not understand?” I cannot help but laugh when I visualize cowboys sitting around a campfire developing a mission statement.
Everything within an organization evolves. Processes change, customers change, management and leaders change, owners change. How can a mission statement realistically encapsulate all this evolution without being so nebulous as to be worthless?
In case you are wondering, the mission statement on my ranch is this: Make Money / Have Fun. If this is not the mission, then why in the world am I doing it? All of the adjectives and descriptors that could be included in a mission I choose to simply call life. Michael L. Gooch, SPHR Author of Wingtips with Spurs: Cowboy Wisdom for Today’s Business Leaders