On a mission: Statements serve as a guiding force

Doug May
Doug May

The goal of the Public Broadcasting Service is to “create content that educates, informs and inspires.” Kiva is a nonprofit corporation “with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.” Ford Motors is a “global family with a proud heritage passionately committed to providing personal mobility for people around the world.” 

We’re all on a mission. Whether we accomplish it, however, depends on how well we prioritize our time, how effectively we allocate our resources and how well those around us understand where it is we’re trying to go.

A mission statement articulates who we are, what we do — and why — and who we serve. Done right, a mission statement reminds members of the organization who you help and why. For people new to the organization, the statement is an important tool for prioritizing critical activities over urgent demands.

A vision statement, which is slightly different, inspires us to imagine success. Value statements clarify and capture the guiding principles of the organization for succeeding generations. In the end, achieving our mission could depend on how well we’ve designed and implemented these founding principles.

Anne Wenzel, executive director of the Western Colorado Community Foundation and long-time nonprofit consultant, has seen a lot of nonprofit mission statements.  “These statements are critical to articulate what the organization does, who it serves and where. Mission statements provide a grounding for staff, board members and volunteers so everyone is on the same page. Every group should have one,” she said.

But Wenzel is equally enthusiastic about developing a great vision statement. Slogans and tag lines are even more useful for summarizing and inspiring. Girl Scouts of Colorado — “Where girls grow strong.” St. Mary’s Hospital — “We’re here for life.” Hopewest has a particularly compelling tag line — “We’ll be here for you.” While this statement doesn’t itemize what services Hopewest offers or what health care niche it fills, the tag line speaks right to our hearts. We’re all going to watch someone we love die, and we’re all going to pass away ourselves. Hopewest will be there for all of us.

A well-written mission statement will guide us when faced with equally compelling choices.

When considering new programs, PBS reviews the pilot script to ask, “Is the writing inspirational?” When when choosing among expansion plans, Kiva wants to know, “does it foster connection and collaboration?” When evaluating new products that might eat into market share for traditional car sales, Ford already knows to think more broadly than the automotive industry. Ford’s business is personal mobility, which means a partnership with Getaround to develop a car sharing service makes perfect sense even if it threatens the traditional automotive franchise.

At their best, these statements serve as guideposts for decision making at all levels of the organization.  Moreover, by pointing true north, they keep everyone moving together in the right direction. That not only increases productivity and efficiency, but also helps customers know why your organization is the best choice to solve a particular problem.

“Whether you are a business, a nonprofit organization or an individual, the mission statement is the basic purpose,” Wenzel said. “But we all need to have that vision statement to articulate how the world will be different if we succeed.”

Wenzel has seen vision statements really energize nonprofits along with their staff and donors. Values statements develop internal consistency and continuity.   St. Mary’s espouses values of care and compassion based on Catholic teaching. Grand Valley Catholic Outreach talks about their “guests” rather than the homeless and seek the human dignity in those who are the least fortunate among us. These word choices build a culture of caring critical to organizational success.

We have a saying around our office about retirement planning. It’s not about the money. It’s about your life.

Apple Computer’s original mission was to design “Macs, the best computers in the world….”  After Steve Jobs returned to the firm, they added his desire to “….lead the digital music revolution.”

While Jobs amassed one of the largest fortunes in America, he wasn’t in it for the money. He was leading a revolution. Are you?  Tell us where the revolution is taking place so others can help you accomplish your mission.  Then show us a compelling vision so we can’t wait to get on board, too.