What are Vision and Mission Statements vs a Strategic Plan?

by | Jan 16, 2023 | Strategic Planning

Vision and mission statements are at the heart of nonprofit work. Our vision and mission articulate our organizations’ reasons for being. They drive our programs. They inspire our volunteers and donors.

So, if your organization has solid vision and mission statements, along with an annual plan, you might wonder: Do I still need a strategic plan?

Our answer is yes. But to explain why, let’s start with how these documents are different.


Vision Statement vs Mission Statement

All nonprofits have vision and mission statements. Many for-profit businesses have them too. Which means there are a lot of vision and mission statements out there in the world.

But if having a vision and mission is so common, why is it still difficult to tell the two apart? It’s a bit like telling right from left, which one in six people struggle to do. It’s a seemingly simple activity that requires unexpected nuance to get right. So, let’s break it down.

  • A vision statement is inspirational, describing a vision for a better future if the organization’s work is successful. A vision statement answers the question of WHY the organization exists. A vision statement can be a sentence or two, or longer if needed. Its purpose is to paint a picture of the world an organization is trying to create.
  • A mission statement is informational, describing how the organization is working in the present to turn its vision for the future into reality. A mission statement answers the question of WHAT the organization does. This statement should be brief enough to pass the “T-shirt test,” meaning it could be printed on a T-shirt and still be legible.

Together, vision and mission statements are designed to:

  • Resonate with members of your organization’s community—such as potential clients, partners, volunteers, donors, board members and staff
  • Inspire people to learn more about your organization, the work you do, and what you’re trying to accomplish
  • Compel people to act—which could mean applying for a job, becoming a volunteer, making a donation, or seeking services

Read more: Crafting a Stellar Vision and Mission Statement


How is a Strategic Plan Different?

A strategic plan serves as a written roadmap for what an organization wants to accomplish over a defined period, generally 3-5 years. As opposed to vision and mission statements, a strategic plan is a lengthier document. It provides details like goals and objectives, strategies, and measures of success. It also covers areas of internal capacity building, like operations and infrastructure, that work behind the scenes to keep an organization running.

Apart from format, vision and mission statements and strategic plans have very different purposes and audiences.

  • Vision and mission statements are outward facing, designed to inspire, engage and inform people and institutions outside of the organization. Of course, these statements also can and should be used to keep staff and board connected to an organization’s purpose.
  • A strategic plan is inward facing, designed to help board and staff leadership strengthen their organization’s sustainability and impact. A strategic plan can be adapted for and shared with external audiences and is a particularly powerful fundraising tool.

Read more: 5 Ways to Boost Fundraising with a Strategic Plan


Vision, Mission, and Strategic Planning: How it All Fits Together

If vision, mission, and strategic planning were a chicken and egg situation, the answer of which came first is clear: vision and mission. But a strategic plan should definitely come next.

When undertaking a strategic planning process, one of the first things Funding for Good does with organizations is review their vision and mission statements. That’s because vision and mission should drive every element of strategic planning.

A strategic plan is your vision and mission in action. It provides the tools to go one level deeper and answer HOW your organization is going to accomplish its goals.


Using Vision and Mission to Keep Your Team Engaged

What is an Annual Plan vs a Strategic Plan?

What Happens When a Strategic Plan Strays from an Organization’s Mission?

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