I recently worked with a brand new nonprofit to help them create their mission statement. Their board is deeply committed, remarkably experienced, and well-connected. They all have been involved with the new organization’s cause in some way, shape, or form over the years, and there is a clear need for this new nonprofit’s work.

Creating the mission statement should be a piece of cake, right?


Wrong, in the best possible way. The process of creating the mission statement wasn’t easy or fast, but it sure was fun. Passionate discussions emerged around the purpose of the organization, the constituencies they are trying to reach, and the ways in which they are filling an unmet need.

Our conference room felt like an animated dinner party discussion. The board members – some of whom had known each other for years, and others who were meeting for the first time – shared their ideas and their own, deeply personal experiences. They nodded heads. They took notes. They laughed. They built upon each others points like Legos snapping into place. It wasn’t easy, but it was sort of magical, watching them coalesce as a group and articulate their purpose.

Facilitating the discussion reminded me of why mission statements matter:

A mission statement empowers you to become an ambassador for your organization: Whether a board member, a volunteer, a donor, or a stakeholder in another way, if you care about the organization and its work, you need to be able to articulate what it does, why it does it, and how the world will look different because of this work. A mission statement crystalizes this in an inspiring way.

A mission statement matters in fundraising: Mission statements capture the attention and imagination of potential donors. And for foundations, in particular, they often are required as part of the fundraising process.

Creating a mission statement clarifies your organization’s values, and its value-add: In crafting a succinct, compelling mission statement, the board I recently worked with asked itself some great questions:

Who are we really trying to reach?

What differentiates us in the marketplace?

How inclusive are we, or should we be?

What will be our outcomes, and how will we measure our progress?

What are our top priorities?

Creating a great mission statement is not just an exercise in wordsmithing. It is a shaping and articulating of group values. The process is a compass, pointing you where you want to go, but it’s also a way of choosing which map you want to follow. Refining the organization to its essence can be a way of bringing a together a board (or other group of stakeholders) and creating a shared sense of purpose.

It’s hard work, but it can be fun and energizing, as well; a map and compass that can lead you to fantastic adventures.