How to Write a Nonprofit Mission Statement

You probably already have a good idea of your purpose for your nonprofit. Now you have to refine that idea, state it simply in a few words, and officially get it down on paper.

Frankly, it's easier to have just one draft and refine the statement's wording, but you should invite your board, staff, and volunteers to participate in identifying the statement's key content — your organization's goals, purpose, programs, and vision. The act of creating or refining a mission statement can motivate and even inspire them.

While inspiration may be your goal, as you gather your group's ideas and begin to write your statement, you need to make sure your written statement is clear.

Get input from your group

Whether you're working with a newly formed nonprofit or a long-running institution, everyone on your board or planning committee needs to agree on the mission statement. Hold a meeting to solicit their input. The biggest advantage to this kind of group activity is achieving full buy-in from everyone involved.

After all, you want people to believe in and accept the organization's mission statement. If they don't, they likely won't stick around to help uphold that mission (or won't do a good job of upholding it while they're there).

For groups that are working to establish a mission statement for a new nonprofit organization, find an outside facilitator to guide the group through the inevitable discussions about priorities and the direction of the new organization. Finding a neutral person who can bring an outsider's perspective to the group's deliberations is extremely helpful.

A facilitator also takes responsibility for managing the group so you and your colleagues can be full participants in the meeting. If you aren't near a nonprofit support organization (a nonprofit that helps other nonprofits with technical assistance), ask other organizations near you for suggestions.

Bring a few prewritten suggestions to the group meeting. Present them as drafts and ask for feedback. After an initial discussion among the group, give each member index cards or sticky pads and have them write down three ideas they feel strongly about keeping as a part of the mission.

After you collect everyone's written ideas, read them all aloud and — as a group — organize them so that similar ideas are grouped together. These notes should identify the key ideas that belong in your mission statement. Also be sure to ask whether anyone thinks an important idea is missing. If not, you're ready to assign someone to draft the mission statement.

Draft the statement

A group process is essential to identifying the core ideas that belong in the mission statement, but when it comes to putting words on paper, choose your best writer and turn her loose.

Committee-written prose is usually a bad idea. You could end up sitting in meetings where committees discuss adjective choices and the placement of commas without apparent end. The result of such efforts is usually murky writing that requires several readings to interpret the meaning.

After a draft is on paper, feel free to bring it back to your group for their final thoughts and approval on content, grammar, and word choice. Until then, however, assign only one person to work on the draft.

When finalizing the wording of your statement, the best advice is to stay away from jargon and flowery rhetoric. Avoid the buzzwords that are currently popular in your field. In fact, this is good advice for any kind of writing — grant proposals, memos, letters, and so on. You don't want your audience scratching their heads and wondering, "What does that mean?"

Here's an example of a vague, unclear mission statement:

The Good Food Society works to maximize the utilization of nutritious food groups to beneficially help all persons in their existence and health by proclaiming the good benefits of balanced nutrition.

You probably get the idea that this organization wants people to have better eating habits so they can enjoy better health. But try reciting this statement to someone you're trying to convince to contribute to your organization. Can you say tongue-tied?

Long, multisyllabic words don't make a mission statement more impressive. If anything, they have the opposite effect. Instead of using the preceding statement, try something like this:

Believing in the value of good nutrition, the Good Food Society aims to improve public health by providing information about the benefits of a balanced diet to parents of school-age children through public education programs.

This mission statement may not be perfect, but it states the organization's values, its long-term goal, its targeted beneficiaries, and a general method for accomplishing the goal — all the ingredients of an effective mission statement.

Imagine that you're riding in an elevator with someone who knows nothing about your nonprofit. You have 15 seconds to describe your organization's purpose and activities. Doing so is easy if you have a clear, short mission statement. Even if you have a longer mission statement, develop a 50- to 75-word spiel that you can recite from memory.

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