How to Write the Perfect Nonprofit Mission Statement
Nonprofit’s are all about pursuing their mission and advocating for their cause. When starting a nonprofit, it is important to clearly define what your mission is, which is why these statements are important. While only a couple of sentences, your mission statement will be a driving force for your nonprofit, and we are here to help.
Today we will go over these topics:
- The Purpose of a Mission Statement
- The Elements of a Mission Statement
- Tips for Writing Your Mission Statement
The Purpose of a Mission Statement
First off, you may be asking yourself "what is a mission statement?". To put it simply, a mission statement sums up the purpose of your organization, who you serve, and what you do to accomplish your goals. It does this all in one or two sentences. Almost all organizations, businesses, and government programs have one.
Writing a strong mission statement allows you to explain your goals and values to the public in a clear and concise way, and you can translate big, broad ideas into a specific, actionable phrase.
It is also a crucial step on the administrative side. The IRS will review it when you apply for tax-exempt status or any other IRS classification, and you will need it handy for the registration process as well!
A mission statement will serve as a guiding light for your new nonprofit. It is a foundational tool that defines what your nonprofit will do and how you are different from other organizations.
It can also provide your new organization with a framework that will help you clarify your purpose and determine your direction by reminding you of what is most important to focus on. If it isn’t a part of your mission statement, it shouldn’t be a priority.
A mission statement often helps guide your organization when it comes to branding, programs or projects taken on, funding opportunities, and more. It can even help you with decision making by giving you a framework of what your nonprofit stands for. While it may seem small and brief, a mission statement can be a powerful force for your organization because it conveys your values and defies your vision.
In the long-term, a strong mission statement will help define the future and success of your nonprofit. Donors, members, volunteers, or anyone else interested in your organization will look for your mission statement on your website, business plan, fundraising materials, annual reports, and so on. This will help reassure them of what you do and why they should participate.
The Elements of a Mission Statement
Although a mission statement is only one or two sentences long, there are elements that it must include. They are the why, who, and how.
This is your space to explain (briefly) why you were founded. After conducting your needs assessment, you should have a pretty clear idea of what your purpose is and the need you're addressing. Use this element to illustrate your purpose and why it is important.
The next question you ask yourself is: who are you serving? Individuals, groups, animals, or the environment? It is crucial to know your audience and who exactly you are serving. Are you local? State-wide? Focused on the elderly? Whoever and whatever your nonprofit is for, your mission statement should reflect that.
This is arguably the most important part of your mission statement. This is the actionable part of your mission statement that should really drive it home and make a big impact. How are you pursuing your mission? What exactly do you do to reach your goals and advance your cause? Do you need the help of donors and volunteers to achieve your goals? This is a great opportunity to engage the reader and inspire them to help out
You should illustrate the specific and measurable difference your organization is trying to make. By using quantifiable terms you can help your audience relate and understand your mission, rather than just an ambiguous, abstract goal.
Pro Tip: If you conducted a needs analysis you probably have some of the quantitative information behind your "who" and "how". Don't hesitate to use this information when forming your mission statement!
Tips for Writing your Mission Statement
Before we dive into our tips for creating a great mission statement, here is a great overview of what and what not to include that you can reference.
Source: Nonprofit Hub
Keep it Concise
This is one of our most important tips, but can be a hard one to follow. You may be tempted to explain everything about your nonprofit, but it is important to keep it short and sweet. You should be focusing only on the how, why, and who, and do it in 5-15 words!
It is recommended that you try to keep your statement to one sentence if possible, two at the absolute maximum. Try to cut any adjectives or “fluff” from your statement if you find that it is still too long.
A single, powerful sentence will have a much bigger impact than a wordy, lengthy one. It will also help people to remember your mission statement.
Pro Tip: A mission statement doesn’t need to explain everything about your nonprofit and the work you do, just the essentials about your drive and purpose.
Make it Actionable
The best mission statements are outcome-oriented. It should illustrate the basic outcomes your nonprofit is working to achieve. This is usually included in the "how" of the mission statement.
When drafting your mission statement, think of high impact, powerful verbs to include. Try the format "To (verb) ….." It is a simple but effective way to make your statement actionable.
Great examples include: to empower, to eradicate, to accelerate, and to prevent. Give words like these a try until you find something that fits!
Use Simple Wording
Your mission statement should be simple, easy to understand, and direct. By including complicated formalities or industry jargon, you risk alienating the general public.
Using simple, powerful words helps your mission statement stir emotion, rather than seem very logical and distant.
Avoid Generalities or Clichés
Avoid making your mission statement too vague. Using general statements and clichés like "we help people" or "we are making a difference" may not only sound trite, but also does not convey your statement in a meaningful, impactful way.
Try to get creative, or even just straight to the point! Remember that this is also a time for you to set yourself out from the crowd, and your mission statement should reflect that.
Avoid Sounding "Trendy"
While it may seem like a good idea now, using buzzwords or phrases that are "in" currently, could seem dated or meaningless later down the road. A good mission statement is timeless and clear.
This is not to say that you can not change your mission statement down the road as you evolve, but it still remains a good rule of thumb.
As we briefly mentioned in the examples section, inclusivity is key! Using words like "together" or "with the help of" engage the audience and make them feel a part of your mission. When potential donors, members, or volunteers see right off the bat you are including them in your mission, they may be more likely to want to participate.
Using broad statements is also wise so you do not limit yourself to your own specific sector or strategy. It should be welcoming for anyone, not just a member of a certain community.
Don’t do it Alone
Last but not least, ask for help! This is a big project that may need more than one set of eyes. Encouraging participation from other members of your organization, or even community members will help you gather insights that you may not have had previously.
Once you have a team together, encourage everyone to write their own draft or make suggestions as to what they would like to see. You can then compare and see the perspectives from multiple people and create a well-rounded statement!
Pro Tip: If you already have your board of directors assembled, this is a great exercise for them! Your board is helpful for projects like this because in general they have previous experience and can give their advice. Furthermore, this will help to ensure they completely understand your mission!
Examples of Effective Mission Statements
Now that you know the elements to include, let’s take a look at some nonprofit organizations who have nailed their mission statements.
"We’re a nonprofit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries."
This is a perfect example of a great mission statement. It is concise, clear, and actionable. They get directly to the point and you understand what their mission is.
"To feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger."
Here, you can clearly see all of the elements needed to create a strong mission statement. You know exactly who they serve, how they do it, and why they were founded.
Gulmakai Network, Malala Fund
"To accelerate and amplify the impact of local education advocates in countries where girls are most likely to miss out on secondary education."
This is a personal favorite of ours. It is inspirational and the need is brilliantly described at the end of the statement.
Make a Wish America
"Together, we create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses."
A short, illustrative mission statement like this one can be very effective. Note the inclusivity by using the word "together". We know what they do and why, and that they need our help!
American Red Cross
"The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors."
Using actionable words like "mobilizing" gives this statement an urgent, important feel. They are illustrative in what they do and what they need to accomplish their mission. A statement like this can be very helpful when it comes to soliciting donations.
Please note that some organizations also hire professional writers to help them with their mission statements. If you have the budget for it, wonderful. If not, no worries! Having a small team of people involved in your organization will be plenty to create a great mission statement.
You are now ready to get started drafting your new mission statement! We would love to see what you have come up with in the comments section.
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