Writing Your Nonprofit Mission Statement
The 4-Ingredient Mission Statement.
As we're sure you've realized, your nonprofit's branding campaign are built upon two central things: your logo and your Mission Statement. We've already discussed the importance and benefits of having a Mission Statement. In this article, we want to help you put pen to paper and start writing one! Below is a recipe for Mission Statement success for your nonprofit, what we call the 4-Ingredient Mission Statement.
Earlier we discussed the three main elements that usually make up a Mission Statement. Those three elements are present in our rendition of things, but we feel that one more element could be used to really bring out the "flavor," if you will, of your nonprofit's Mission Statement.
1. Answer questions on identity.
Outlined in our previous article, these questions will serve to sharpen and direct your thinking as you determine the essence of your nonprofit to put into words. Some these questions include (but are not limited to): What is your objective/purpose? What is the problem you're trying to solve, the need you're trying to fulfill? What actions are you taking? Who are you serving? Who is your nonprofit for? What is your ultimate goal?
Take the answers you have to the questions above and see how they work (or don't work) together. Consider the places you will use your Mission Statement; is it just going to be on the website? Will you be posting it across all social media platforms? On other products? Knock around ideas for length and for the tone you want to set for your Mission Statement. Is it going to be light and airy? Weighty and urgent? Determining these elements will greatly help the writing process and effectively market your nonprofit online when it's ready.
3. Analyze your audience.
Who are you writing your Mission Statement for? Think of the demographics you want to attract, what kind of donor base you want to compile for your nonprofit.
4. Bring everyone together.
Create a shared vision to combat "Founder's Syndrome." Founder's Syndrome can cause a bit of a hiccup in putting together your Mission Statement as creators of your nonprofit can be so invested in their views of what the nonprofit is or should be that it may not allow for outside opinions. Keep an open mind and get new and different perspectives to foster fresh ideas. You will get different interpretations of what your Mission Statement is or should be. Have the multiple conversations it would take to craft your Mission Statement; this will work as a refresher for your nonprofit to touch base on what you value, what is at the heart of your organization.
5. Get a writer.
Find a writer, either freelance or someone from one your corporate partners who is willing to do it pro bono, to compose your Mission Statement. If your nonprofit doesn't have the budget or would prefer to keep it in-house, assign one or two people with writing skills and/or experience to take on the task. The last thing your nonprofit needs is a Mission Statement riddled with misspellings or grammatical errors.
Get cooking! (Get writing!)
Many of the articles in circulation about writing Mission Statements are fixated on what makes a Mission Statement "good." In fact, every article out there has their own opinion on the matter. Mission Statements, by their very nature, are subjective. One implemented by one nonprofit may not be the right fit for another. Instead, let's choose to focus on what makes a Mission Statement effective!
Using our four ingredients above, let's put it all together to create an effective Mission Statement that accomplishes and incorporates the five things below:
1. Educates and is balanced.
To start, your Mission Statement should cover the basics and tell donors the Who, What, Where, Why, and How of your organization - the four ingredients described above. The second part of this, striking balance, is arguably the harder part. Striking balance, in this case, means keeping your Mission Statement both focused and open; focused by implementing all four ingredients to the tee. You also want to make your Mission Statement open-ended enough that if you add new programs or make slight changes to your nonprofit, they can easily be added if needed. This is meant to ensure that as your nonprofit expands and grows, you Mission Statement has the potential to grow with it, not become outdated.
Don't be vague and assume that your donors will know how to interpret your Mission Statement. Be explicit! Avoid generalizations and instead highlight what makes your nonprofit exceptional and different from others. Language and wording are very important elements in remedying these and should not be ignored when writing your Mission Statement. You shouldn't use jargon or words used within the nonprofit community; donors will not only understand what they mean but might even feel alienated by them. We also advise against complex or flowery language; remember, you're trying to tell a story about your cause, not presenting a dissertation for a Ph.D.
This is where the subjects of length and word count come into play. There are many approaches to how long your Mission Statement should be. We can assure you that there is no right or wrong answer. What we can say, however, is that length will play a large part in the effectiveness of your Mission Statement. If you or your writers are struggling with length, try setting up a word limit; this might help make the writing process more and more focused. If you instead opt for a longer Mission Statement, make sure that the first sentence or two serve as a summary for the statement as a whole, to help donors remember and understand it better.
Like stated above, tone plays a massive role in how your Mission Statement will be received by donors. You want to create a Mission Statement that's not only going to reflect the kind of urgency, care, or fun of your nonprofit, but will also tug at donors' heartstrings. Evoking an emotional connection will not only make them sympathetic to your cause, but may also lead to donations.
If after reading your Mission Statement donors don't get it, they're not only going to be confused, but they could dismiss your nonprofit altogether. Your Mission Statement has to make an impression so that donors will remember your nonprofit and will feel drawn to coming back to it.
The true power of an effective Mission Statement lies in its ability to rally people together behind one banner: your cause. If your Mission Statement has done its job, it will not only inspire your donors but call them to action to donate and give their support.
After cooking up your Mission Statement, present it to others for tasting before serving it to the masses. Gather a group of people made up of a mix of staff, volunteers, interns, and donors. Your Mission Statement should be readable. Have someone read it out loud and take note of the words that cause them to stumble or phrases that just don't sound right. This may seem more instinctual, but it is very effective.
Talk with your taste testers and ask them what they think: Is it too detailed? Too simple? Is it too long? Too short? Do they get lost in it? Is it easy to understand or is there a simpler way to say it? Does it sound familiar, like another nonprofit's Mission Statement? Another useful exercise would be having each individual in your test group write down or say out loud what your Mission Statement is based on what they read and heard. If something is still lost in translation, go back to your recipe and tweak it accordingly.
Streamline your final product and mold it according to all platforms your intend to promote it on, and take a breather. When all is said and done, serve up your Mission Statement and see how it can help your nonprofit grow.
A small note.
Make it a point to schedule a time to revisit your Mission Statement to ensure its continued effectiveness and clarity. Set time aside once a year or every few years to read over your Mission Statement and make sure that it is still relevant to your nonprofit's current state. Like all good recipes, there's always room for improvement, newer ingredients, or newer ways to cook up something even better!