By Kelsey Boudin
President and Founder, Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC
In my other career as the Executive Director of a small, local nonprofit, we recently grappled with just this issue. How do you write a strong nonprofit mission statement?
The nonprofit launched in 2015, but I only recently took over as its chief executive – amid some rebuilding and changing priorities. It was high time to regroup, re-envision goals and priorities, and begin working toward a new future. So the Board of Directors and I did some brainstorming.
We started from the beginning. What better place?
What is a Nonprofit Mission Statement?
A nonprofit organization’s mission statement is the cornerstone of its identity. It articulates its reason for being – its purpose. It propels your organization on its community-oriented path and puts meaning behind its activities. It’s an ever-present force pushing the nonprofit forward in word and deed toward its vision, which is the picture of change the organization aims for.
In short, an effective nonprofit mission statement details three main points:
- Reason for existence
- Population(s) served
- How it works
Fittingly, the mission statement is the foundation upon which all other messaging and branding efforts are built. It’s critical for communicating your nonprofit’s purpose and values to your target audience, donors, grant funders and stakeholders.
Here are a few tips for writing a nonprofit mission statement that hits home:
1. Be Clear & Concise
Your mission statement must be clear and concise. So many nonprofits get this wrong. They try to over explain and get too “into the weeds” about what success means.
Avoid using jargon or overly technical language that may confuse or alienate your audience. Use simple, direct language that clearly communicates your nonprofit’s purpose and values.
2. Focus on Impact
Your strong nonprofit mission statement should clearly communicate the impact your organization aims to achieve. This will help your audience connect with the importance of your work and the value of their support.
Use language that highlights the outcomes and benefits of your work, rather than just the activities you undertake. Many nonprofit novices focus too much on the “how” rather than the “why.” A mission statement shouldn’t be a blow-by-blow of “what” your nonprofit organization does. It should be a brief testament to the people, systems and values you serve.
3. Be Authentic
Your mission statement should accurately reflect your nonprofit’s values and goals. Don’t try to be all things to all people, or stretch beyond your organization’s capabilities.
When building relationships with big funders, it may be tempting to exaggerate your mission statement to encompass every priority you come across. (“Oh, yeah, we do that, too!”) But don’t complicate things! Stay true to your organization’s unique strengths and purpose, and say that authentically.
4. Engage Stakeholders
Involve key stakeholders in drafting your nonprofit mission statement. Everyone from board members to staff, volunteers, donors and even community members may offer unique perspectives as to what your organization “is all about.” You may see your impact a certain way. But a community member who has benefited from your work may have an enlightened view of what that impact truly means.
This can ensure your statement reflects the values and priorities of your organization and resonates with your audience.
(Related reading: Communications Strategy Takes a Village.)
5. Review & Revise
A mission statement is not set in stone. As your organization evolves, so may your mission and goals. Regularly review and revise your mission statement with key stakeholders to ensure it remains current and relevant to your work and goals.
In my real-world example mentioned above, the mission statement of our nonprofit adopted at the organization’s founding in 2015 was nowhere near the next revision in 2021. And by 2023, under new leadership and evolving priorities, the mission needed to be revised once more.
Does Your Nonprofit Mission Statement Effectively Tell Your Organization’s Story
As we always say, “We All Have A Story To Tell. Let’s Tell It Well.” Your nonprofit mission statement is the synopsis of that greater narrative.
The consequences of getting it wrong?
Your mission statement is often your organization’s chance to make a first impression – a firm handshake – with potential supporters and key stakeholders. It’s a lead element in most grant applications, written cases for support and quarterly/annual reports. It’s celebrated from the news media to the annual fundraising gala.
Does your nonprofit mission statement say what it needs to say while meaningfully connecting with your target audience? If not, we’re always here to help. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on LinkedIn for more expert insights!