Organizations tend to spend a lot of time creating (or refining) their mission statements… only to forget about them. In the midst of changes, crises, and emerging opportunities, a mission statement can sometimes seem like just an exercise in semantics. But, make no mistake: mission statements matter. How can you put yours to work, making it an active part of your organization?

What is a mission statement?

There are lots of different explanations of what mission statements are and how to write them. Nonprofit thought leader Peter Drucker said they should: be short and clear, define what the organization does (without being too specific), address needs, and inspire commitment. The Grantsmanship Center says that they should reflect the values or beliefs that guide the organization’s work. For example, one of my favorite mission statements is from the Girl Scouts:

Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place

You know what matters to the Girl Scouts, you know why they do what they do, and you may feel inspired to be a part of it.

Putting your mission statement to work

If your mission statement is feeling like a relic of the past, or just a collection of snazzy words that have nothing to do with your day-to-day work, I offer you 8 ways to put your mission statement to work:

  1. Use your mission statement to make decisions or say “no”: Turn down opportunities, donations, or ideas that are not core to your purpose or aligned with your values.
  2. Revisit the mission statement at a staff or board meeting: Ask which aspects of it seem most compelling, inspiring, or accurate/inaccurate.
  3. Post the mission statement to your social media accounts: Invite reactions, comments, and questions. Or, run a contest that includes mission statement updates, images, etc.
  4. Research other organizations with similar mission statements to help you clearly articulate what makes your organization different.
  5. Make your mission statement part of the onboarding process for new staff, volunteers, and/or board members.
  6. Create a “mission moment” at organizational meetings, where you present a quote, a client testimonial, data, or an image that amplifies some aspect of the mission statement.
  7. Make your mission statement, or some aspect of it, part of the talking points you use in fundraising conversations. “One thing about our mission statement that really resonates for me is…”
  8. Ask yourself if you reflect the mission statement in your interactions with colleagues, donors, etc. For example, if you wok for the Girl Scouts, do you act and speak with courage? Confidence? Character?

Don’t let your mission statement turn into a relic of the past. Activate it to make it a guidepost for your organization’s present and future.

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