Maybe this is you.
You believe in your nonprofit organization.
Deep inside, you know it can change the world. 🌏
But lately, things haven’t been running smoothly.
There are the funding issues. The board issues. The volunteer issues.
You wonder, “Am I the only person who believes in this organization?”
If this sounds like you, let me tell you this.
Your nonprofit might have something missing.
I know, it’s hard to hear.
You don’t want to think your nonprofit is broken.
The good news is you can fix it. No, you don’t need to start over and build a new organization. You don’t need to overhaul everything you’ve done so far.
All you need to do is take one step in the right direction.
Check if your mission statement is broken.
Maybe, but you’ll be amazed at how much clarity you’ll gain once you fix your broken mission statement.
Let’s get started.
Do you roll your eyes when you hear the phrase “mission statement”?
If yes, it’s probably because there’s a ton of bad mission statements out there which are meaningless, confusing, or just…meh.
Like this one.
You read something like this and scratch your head.
“Should I even bother writing a mission statement for my organization?”
The answer is yes.
Here are three reasons why.
A mission statement answers the question, “Why do we exist?”
It’s your ultimate guiding statement of purpose. Without it, you’ll go around in circles and it’s not surprising if people around you (donors, volunteers, staff) get confused as well.
One great way to encourage people to work hard is to show them their work’s results.
This is what a powerful mission statement does.
It stops your volunteers and staff from sending random work and energy into the void…
…and shows them that what they’re doing makes a difference.
Here’s how Indeed puts it.
Have you heard of the nonprofit organization, Landesa?
Founded in 1967, its first mission statement was, “Secure land rights for rural people who live on less than $2 a day.”
Over the years, they stuck to their mission. They resisted the temptation to get new sources of funding by expanding their focus.
They’ve grown into huge, award-winning organization focused on giving land rights to the world’s poorest in over 50 countries.
I know, you can’t wait to roll up your sleeves and get into the nitty-gritty of crafting your own powerful mission statement.
(We’ll get to that in a bit.)
But first, check out these three amazing mission statements for inspiration.
Ever listen to a TED talk while sitting in hour-long traffic on your way to work?
I bet you felt inspired. Uplifted. Encouraged.
Or maybe you simply learned about the world’s most dangerous jellyfish.
The bottom line is TED talks are jam-packed with knowledge and ideas.
And they’re made possible by a nonprofit organization called TED.
Their mission statement?
We all love animal rescue videos.
We love watching homeless dogs find a loving family.
We love seeing little kittens playing in their new basket.
We love watching as that desperate, fearful Pitbull begins to wag his tail for his new owner.
And thanks to The Humane Society of the United States, many of these sad, lonely, abused animals are saved and given better lives.
If you look closer, you’ll see that it all starts with their mission statement.
What Kiva does is connect borrowers and lenders around the world to alleviate poverty.
For only $25, donors can lend money to fund poor families across 77 countries.
Kiva’s mission statement says it all.
As we’ve seen, crafting your own mission statement and sticking to it is the first step towards clarity.
Now, it’s time to build your own.
Here are three steps to a strong mission statement.
In the world of nonprofit, it’s all about action.
Because of this, your mission statement should be built around a strong action word.
Go back to the examples above and pick out the action behind the mission statements.
TED’s is “to spread.”
The Humane Society of the United States’ is “to celebrate,” and “to confront.”
Kiva’s is “to connect.”
Now, sit down and think of your organization’s #1 action.
Is it to comfort, to alleviate, to fight?
Remember, your nonprofit hinges on this single word.
So don’t rush things. Spend hours (even days) thinking about it. Write your ideas down. Take breaks.
Keep in mind that it’s better to take a month unravelling your all-important verb than to hurry and subtract from your mission statement’s power.
To do this, think of the main recipients of your work.
Is it a group of people? Animals? Nature?
Don’t be generic.
For instance, instead of people it can be, “homeless kids.”
Instead of animals it can be, “dogs.”
Instead of nature it can be, “nature trails.”
As with step #1, take your time.
And once you’ve nailed it, stick to it.
Yes, there will be temptations to target new sources of funding by expanding your focus.
But don’t do it. Resist the temptation and stick to your object.
Now, it’s time to narrow your focus down even more. This will help you further specify your core object.
Here are a few phrases to give you an idea.
Kids: Kids below 12 who have been victims of abuse.
Dogs: Dogs in federally licensed breeding facilities.
Nature trails: Nature trails in state parks in India.
Now, let’s connect the dots and put the mission statements together.
Once you’ve gone through the three steps above, craft your mission statement into a memorable phrase.
Here are ideas.
“To empower kids below 12 who have been victims of abuse.”
“To improve dogs’ quality of life in federally licensed breeding facilities.”
“To get rid of debris in nature trails in state parks in India.”
These three examples follow the simple formula for powerful mission statements.
Core verb + core object + core differentiator.
Don’t hurry when crafting your mission statement. Take a whole day (or even a week!) to make sure it’ll turn people’s heads.
Here are three extra tips to help you.
Remember, a word-heavy mission statement only confuses and distracts.
Instead, say what you have to say. And then stop.
As a good rule of thumb, try to keep your mission statement below 20 words.
What do our favorite quotes have in common?
They stick in our memory, no matter how old they get.
That’s what your mission statement should be like.
Be unique. Be creative. Touch people’s hearts.
Here’s an example from The Nature Conservancy.
It’s easy to be catchy and trendy with your mission statement.
But don’t do it.
If you want to make a lasting impact, craft your statement to stand the test of time.
Look at the examples above and notice how timeless they are.
There will always be lands in need of conservation…
…women and girls in need of social justice…
…and animals subjected to cruelty.
Look how beautiful and timeless Polar Bears International’s mission statement is.
I know, it can get tough.
There are times when you feel like you’re the only one who believes in your nonprofit organization.
Everything seems to be falling apart.
The board seems distracted and confused.
The number of volunteers coming in is slowing to a trickle.
You don’t know where you’ll get funding for your new project.
What’s going on?
Could your nonprofit be broken?
If this is you, don’t worry.
As long as you have the heart to care, you can fix what’s broken.
You can fill in what’s missing.
And the surprising truth is, the damage often isn’t that deep.
So, take a few days to breathe. Think about your nonprofit. Take out a piece of paper and write down your core action, core object, and core differentiator.
Weld them into a mission statement that’s short, memorable, and timeless.
Once the board agrees on it, laser focus on it no matter what temptation comes to expand.
You’ll be surprised at the change you’ll see in your nonprofit.
Derik Timmerman is the founder of Sparrow Nonprofit Solutions. When he’s not serving nonprofit leaders, he geeks out on philosophy, outdoor trail time, and video games with his three kids.