How to Write an Amazing Nonprofit Mission Statement
From Mundane to Memorable
The best nonprofit mission statements are easy to read and inspirational, and they 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.
How to Begin
Narrow the focus. An organization can't be everything to everyone. Writing a mission statement forces you to zero in on precisely what your nonprofit does. Start by answering these questions: Whom does the nonprofit serve? Why does it serve them? How does it serve them Zeroing in on this helps avoid mission creep, or a loss of focus.
Bring in many perspectives. Ask the community that you plan to serve what they think about the services you plan to offer, if they're helpful, and why they're needed to make sure your mission is in alignment with the needs of the community. 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 on. 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 to 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 you'd like to include in 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 an effective public relations tool. Donors, supporters, and volunteers will look for a mission statement on a nonprofit's website, annual reports, fundraising materials, and more. In addition, the IRS will review it to determine if the organization matches its requirements if you plan to apply for tax-exempt status, 501(c)(3), 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 great mission statement, develop a tagline to go with it. Taglines add a bit of oomph to your mission 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.
In addition, looking at examples of effective mission statements can help you recognize what makes a good one.