Tips for Writing Powerful Mission & Vision Statements

Tips for Writing Powerful

Mission & Vision Statements

by Ro

Tips for Writing Powerful

Mission & Vision Statements

by Ro

by Ro

We help our clients review (and often revise) their mission and vision as part of our strategic planning projects.

In this post, we walk you through the process we use to help clients create crisp, clear, and compelling mission and vision statements. 

What are mission and vision statements?

All nonprofits have mission statements (you’re required to put your mission on your 990 for goodness sakes!) and most have vision statements. But even tenured nonprofit professionals need a reminder about why you have these statements, what they do for you, and how to write powerful statements that resonate with your constituents

The mission is a simple statement that explains why your nonprofit exists. The word derives from the Latin word missionem, which means “the act of sending or dispatching.” For example, religions and militaries go on “missions” because they actively send trained people to another place to achieve a specific goal.  

You might be thinking to yourself, “Thanks for the history lesson, Dolph, but what does this have to do with my organization’s mission statement?” That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked!

Your mission statement also embodies action it is the reason your nonprofit coordinates and mobilizes people and resources. So, a good mission statement either begins with the word “to” or could easily have “to” inserted in the front without changing the meaning. 

Here are some examples:

          • (To) Feed hungry people in our community 
          • (To) End childhood obesity 
          • (To) Fight for equality

Because missions must embody action, a good mission statement doesn’t offer your end goal. As an example, “no one goes hungry in our community,” isn’t a mission statement. You don’t send people out into the community because no one goes hungry, but you do send them to feed hungry people. And that’s where the vision comes in.

The vision statement is a brief description of your organization’s ultimate goal. In other words, it describes the difference you will make in the world (or your community) after you’ve mobilized lots of people and resources on behalf of your mission.

Your vision describes a state of being for your community once you achieve your mission. For this reason, you can almost always insert the phrase “A world/community where/with. . .”

Here are some examples:

          • A community without hunger
          • (A nation with) Equality for everyone
          • (A community with) No childhood illnesses caused by obesity

Do we need a new mission or vision statement? 

Setting the mission and establishing the vision for your organization is among your Board’s sacred governance duties. Only your Board of Directors can determine why your organization exists, the reasons you mobilize resources and people, and the ultimate goal you hope to achieve.  

We help Boards revisit their mission and vision as part of the strategic planning process, but a Board can consider revisions anytime. It’s a good idea to consider revisions if your Board can’t answer “yes” to the following questions:

          • Does our mission still describe the reason we gather and mobilize resources and people?
          • Does our vision describe the ultimate impact we want to make in our community/nation/world?
          • Can every Board member and staff member easily recall the mission and vision? (that means they can actually repeat it — not just summarize or paraphrase it)
          • Do we use our mission and vision statement as tools for governance, management, and financial decisions? 
          • Are our mission and vision statements powerful and meaningful to our constituents?

What are some useful tips for writing impactful mission statements?

          • Start with a small group: In our experience, a dozen or more people experience real difficulty developing the first draft of a mission or vision statement. Start with a group of four or five people (ideally the Executive Director, her number two staff leader, and three Board members). Once you’ve developed draft statements, ask the Board for feedback. 
          • Plan on multiple sessions: Rarely will a group develop a mission and vision statement they love in just one meeting. Plan on two or three sessions, where each person agrees to brainstorm ideas to bring to the next meeting. 
          • Keep it simple and powerful: We believe in simple mission and vision statements that everyone in your organization can easily remember. This means statements of no more than 10 words that carry a powerful emotional and logical meaning.  
          • Ask stakeholders: Before you start the process, ask Board members, staff, the people you serve, partners, donors, and funders to share the three words they associate with your organization. Count and categorize the responses and use the results as a starting point of words and concepts to consider. There are all kinds of free word cloud generators that can help you visualize your results, too.
          • Don’t require words: Remember that good mission statements aren’t a laundry list of services you provide or communities you serve.  Years ago, we worked with a client who felt strongly that three distinct, yet interconnected communities had to be represented within their mission, totaling 6 words — leaving only 4 words for the rest of the mission statement. We challenged them to try creating a mission without those 6 words before agreeing to the long mission. Guess what? They created a mission statement they felt was more inclusive, more impactful, and more memorable without those words!

But what about strategy?

Strategies help you maximize your resources and people to achieve your mission. Strategy goes beyond programs, and ultimately shapes your entire organization as a force that drives toward your mission. 

Additionally, check out the following Successful Nonprofits® resources if this post was helpful:

Blog: Strategic Planning Part 3: Mission, Vision, and Values 

Blog: Mission Creep: Nonprofit Kudzu

Podcast: Strategic Planning Part 3: Mission, Vision, and Values 

Podcast: The Magic of Strategic Plans with Liana Downey

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