The best nonprofit mission statements are easy to read and inspirational. They also let people know why the organization exists, whom it serves, and how it serves them. There's no one way to write a mission statement, but following some basic guidelines can help you craft one that's clear, concise, and compelling.
Narrow the Focus
An organization can't be everything to everyone. Writing a mission statement forces you to explain what your nonprofit does precisely. Start by answering these questions: Who does the nonprofit serve? Why does it serve them? How does it serve them? Focusing on this helps avoid mission creep or a loss of focus.
Bring in Many Perspectives
Ask the community that you will serve what they think about the services you plan to offer. Are they helpful? And why they're needed. Asking your community these questions will make sure your mission is in alignment with their needs. Also, get input from the nonprofit's board, staff, and volunteers. You can get this input through meetings, surveys, or phone calls. Stay open to different interpretations of what you're doing and how to accomplish your goals.
Allow Enough Time
Don't rush the process. Spending some time now to develop the right mission statement will pay off later. Reflect on the information you gather, write more than one draft, and gather feedback from key stakeholders.
Keep Only What You Need
As you brainstorm, your mission statement may become longer than it needs to be. In the end, it should be no more than a couple of sentences. The best mission statements are brief, clear, and easy to read.
Hire a Professional Writer
Unless you're a writer yourself, it'll be worth paying someone to craft a mission statement that you're proud to display and that everyone can understand. Once you get clear on the who, what, why, and how of your nonprofit's mission statement, a professional writer can help you put it into the best words possible.
What to Avoid
When writing a mission statement, try to keep it clear, compelling, and concise. Get rid of anything that could get in the way of people understanding it or could make the organization come across as unrelatable or insincere. That includes avoiding:
- Jargon that only professionals in the field would know
- Buzzwords or slang
- Stilted, formal language and long words
- A passive voice ("XYZ is an organization that helps women achieve independence") instead of an active voice: ("XYZ helps women achieve independence.")
- A focus on the organization, rather than the people it serves
- Generalities such as "saving the world" or "eradicating poverty."
A nonprofit's mission statement is part of its branding. Just like a logo or website design. It helps attract new people and more resources to your cause, and it can be a useful public relations tool.
Donors, supporters, and volunteers will look for a mission statement on a nonprofit's website, annual reports, fundraising materials, and more. Also, the IRS will review it to determine if the organization matches requirements for tax-exempt status, 501(c)(3) designation, or another IRS classification.
Be sure to review the mission statement frequently. The American Heart Association, for instance, reviews its mission statement every third year but changes it only every few decades. Cass Wheeler, a long-time CEO of the American Heart Association, says in his book, You've Gotta Have Heart, "The environment changes, and the organization changes, so a periodic review is important to ensure that there is an alignment of purpose and reality."
Once you write your mission statement, develop a tagline to go with it. Taglines add a bit of "oomph" to your mission statement and can be used in a variety of ways. The tagline should flow from your mission, but it can be changed easily for various campaigns or as your nonprofit grows.
Also, looking at examples of effective mission statements can help you recognize what makes a good one. As you brainstorm your mission statement, challenge the people in your group to collect the mission statements of other organizations. Don't copy them, but do identify what you think makes them terrific.