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Those two words describe what happens when leaders lose focus and allow the organization to move away from its intended purpose. Mission drift, also called “mission creep,” is like an ocean’s undercurrent that shifts, pushes, and moves people away from their base without them noticing.
Savvy swimmers at the beach stop and evaluate their surroundings, then determine if they want to head back towards their original starting point or go a different direction. In the nonprofit world, it is the role of the board of directors to stop, evaluate, and ensure that the organization remains true to the approved vision and mission.
Vision and mission statements reflect the organization’s core identity and drive strategic planning success in the following two ways:
An organization’s vision and mission statements are more than “just catchphrases” for marketing. Approved vision and mission statements ensure leadership has established “unity and direction.” These two statements are essential to providing context for all goal-setting and action planning.
2. Achieving strategic plan goals requires community support. It is easier to excite and engage community members using core messaging that is current and relevant. Donors want to fund an organization’s impact, not its existence. For this reason, steller messaging and a detailed strategic plan are the most impactful resources in a fundraisers toolkit.
“Strategic planning,” at the most fundamental level, implies that leadership is committed to intentional actions to overcome obstacles and increase impact.
At Funding For Good, we recommend organizations begin the strategic planning process with a “visioning session” that engages leadership at board and staff levels. The session should include an intentional process to create, review, or modify vision and mission statements.
The visioning process ensures leaders fulfill their duties to:
- Agree on the future impact the organization strives to achieve. (Aka: the VISION)
- Clarify what the organization does in the present (Aka: the MISSION)
- Review core statements to determine if they are current and relevant
- Modify existing statements or craft new statements if needed
- Approve statements that best define the organization’s purpose and scope.
Acknowledge current realities and needs of the community that the organization was founded to serve.
A well-crafted vision and mission statement are essential for internal and external growth. Unified leadership within the organization is easier to achieve when each component of an organization’s strategic plan (goals, strategies, actions) aligns with the organization’s approved vision and mission. At the community level, a nonprofit’s message is everything. What one says and how one says it can either open doors or burn bridges, so it is crucial to get it right.
The best vision and mission statements resonate with the average community member, inspire them to learn more, and motivate them to act.
The vision and mission statements provide a foundation for all work and words the organization will build upon in the coming years. A nonprofit’s clients, staff, board, and volunteers are ambassadors for the organization. One of the most effective “tools’ you can equip them with is a simple yet powerful message they can share on your behalf- a stellar vision and mission statement!
So how do you know if your vision and mission statement is stellar or if it is time to review and revise it?
Here are a few tips for determining if your vision and mission statement need a facelift.
1. Can your board and staff members quote both statements verbatim by memory?
- If they cannot do it, it is time to ask, “why not?” Is either statement too long or complicated?
2, Do your board and staff members always “rephrase” the vision/mission statements?
- If the answer is yes, ask them, “why?” Are the current vision/mission statements ‘too formal, outdated, unclear, or lackluster’?
3. If a stranger asks you why your organization exists, could you respond using only your vision statement as written?
- If the answer is no, is it because the statement is worded so that it only resonates with one specific sector of the community? Does it fail to inspire a stranger to engage in your cause?
4. If a stranger asks what your organization does, could you respond using only your mission statement? If not, is your statement too restrictive or too detailed? What information is missing or misleading?
5. If you share your vision/mission statement with a stranger, does it inspire them to say, “Wow… tell me more!” or do they look confused and ask, “Ok… but what exactly do you mean?”
If responses to the “quiz” above reveal that your current vision and mission statements are not as impactful as you would like, it might be time to schedule a visioning session.
Funding for Good encourages nonprofits to use a messaging criterion we call the “Three C’s.”
All messaging should be CLEAR, CONCISE, and COMPELLING.
Before you can craft vision and mission statements that are clear, concise, and compelling, it is crucial to understand the difference between them.
Vision statements should INSPIRE, while mission statements should INFORM.
Vision statements describe where we are going, while mission statements explain how we will get there.
In other words, the vision statement allows you to share the IMPACT your organization creates while the mission emphasizes the “TASKS” your organization completes.
Tips for crafting stellar vision and mission statements:
- Limit each statement to 35 words or less.
- Remember the “Three C’s.”
- Make it “T-shirt worthy.” If each statement fits on a t-shirt and makes a powerful statement, people are more likely to remember and share it!
- Craft a message that resonates with your neighbors, not just donors or a small sector of the community
- Use the attributes listed in the chart below to distinguish your vision from your mission statement.
|Explains WHY we exist||Explains WHAT we do|
|Focuses on the future||Focuses on the present|
|Describes what the community will look like in the future if we are successful||Describes how the organization engages the community in the present|
Finally, before your nonprofit begins the crafting process, challenge leadership to complete this simple investigative homework assignment. Ask each board member to complete an internet search to explore “the best/most impactful vision or mission statements.” Encourage them to examine for-profit and nonprofit organizations’ vision and mission statements. They should then select two samples that resonate with them and evaluate what about the content/grammar was impactful.
This simple “prep work” can get the creative juices flowing while reminding board members that short and simple messaging is the most effective approach.
Before the board approves new vision and mission statements, consider taking the top two or three options for a test drive! Request feedback from clients, stakeholders, or strangers to determine which “message” resonates most with your community.