Every nonprofit organization should have a mission statement and a vision statement. Many nonprofit executives are confused about the difference between the two, and this is not surprising since organizational consultants disagree among themselves about what these should contain.
The mission statement should be a succinct description of the basic purpose of the organization, including the nature of the work to be carried out, the reason it exists, and the clients and constituencies it is designed to serve. It may also include some principles and values that are to guide the organization, although these can be enumerated in a separate values/principles statement.
The mission statement serves several purposes.
First, it is a core document guiding basic decision-making for the organization. The mission statement can effectively place constraints on decision-making that is inconsistent with the organization’s core purpose, and thus provide a mechanism for organizational stability. Any decision made by an organization that would result in activities that contradict the mission statement should either not be implemented, or should require a major soul-searching by the organization’s board of directors.
A second purpose is to provide the organization’s board and staff with a useful short description of the organization. This permits all who work with the organization to be on the same page with respect to core purpose. The mission statement serves an important public relations function by explaining to important stakeholders, such as funders, government regulators, and clients, what the organization is about.
A third purpose is to serve as a way to focus all of your organization’s staff and board on the primary reason for the organization’s existence, so that internal activities and politics that might conflict with the true purposes of the organization can be reined in and resources are not diverted to purposes inconsistent with the core mission.
Many mission statements contain two parts, although the first part is sufficient. The first part is often referred to as the “umbrella,” a short overview of the purpose of the organization. For example, the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition’s mission is “to monitor legislative and regulatory developments in Harrisburg that affect Pennsylvania’s organized Jewish community.” During the 13 years I served as the executive director of that organization, I must have recited that mantra a thousand times, and I can still do so in my sleep. This statement served an important purpose. It kept me focused on state matters at a time when there was a vortex of legislative and regulatory activity in Washington that threatened to divert me from doing the narrow task for which I was hired. Another purpose is that the funder, legislator, or member of the press who heard me recite it generally understood the role and essence of the organization.
A second part of the mission statement, which many, including myself, consider to be optional, provides further detail. One way to do this is to add the following after the umbrella: “In support of this mission, we…” followed by general, bullet-pointed objectives relating to, for example, increasing public awareness about the organization’s goals and objectives; meeting the needs of clients; providing quality services; and maintaining relationships with officials from the government, the media, the advocacy community, and the public.
The vision statement is related to, but clearly different from, the mission statement. Its purpose is to convey the ideal future of the organization―what it hopes to become in the eyes of its board, staff, and stakeholders. One purpose of the vision statement is to inspire those in the organization to achieve goals. Another is to help frame decisions made by the organization in the context of achieving these goals.
Among the issues that might be appropriate in a vision statement include the organization’s place in society, its intended growth, its use of new technology, quality improvement, its reputation in the community, and how the public perceives the organization’s effectiveness and efficiency. Other topics could be how it will serve as a good organizational citizen in the community and a measurement of the degree to which it hopes to contribute to solving (or mitigating) particular social problems.
One of the best guides I have found on the preparation of mission statements and vision statements is a 1996 book, A Guide to Strategic Thinking: Building Your Planning Foundation by George Morrisey (Jossey-Bass).
Mission Statement of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Agencies (reprinted with permission):
PANO is the statewide membership organization serving and advancing the charitable nonprofit sector through leadership, advocacy, education and services in order to improve the quality of life in Pennsylvania.
Vision Statement of California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB)
Vision Statement of Africare
Vision Statement of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)
Vision Statement of the Forestville (CA) Planning Association:
Vision Statement of the Pennsylvania Society of Association Executives (PASAE):
The Grantsmanship Center: How to Write a Mission Statement
Leader to Leader Institute: Drucker Self-Assessment Tool―How to Develop a Mission Statement
Alliance for Nonprofit Management: What’s In a Mission Statement?
Raise Your Voice: How to Write a Mission Statement