Most companies and nonprofits have mission statements. And most of them are boring and ineffectual. Your organization does great work, and it deserves a nonprofit mission statement that inspires, motivates, and empowers your supporters and your team.
In short, you deserve a nonprofit mission statement that “works.” When I say that your mission statement should work, what I mean is that it should actually help your charity succeed in its mission. Far too many organizations write nonprofit mission statements that are bland, boilerplate affirmations that could apply to hundreds of organizations… and that inspire no one.
You may have come across statements like these. They usually say things like, “Our organization exists to focus on our five core goals and to uphold the highest ideals of our founder. We do this by supporting our employees, empowering our donors, and serving those who need our help.” That’s a bad mission statement: it tells the reader nothing, and won’t inspire anyone to want to get involved.
In this article, you’ll learn how to create a great nonprofit mission statement for your organization, and we’ll take a look at a couple of examples of great mission statements from other organizations.
What is a Nonprofit Mission Statement?
In order to write a great mission statement, you first need to understand what a mission statement is and why it exists.
In short, your nonprofit mission statement exists to motivate and inspire. It should cast a big vision that keeps your staff motivated, your donors excited, and your volunteers inspired. The statement should be short, no longer than a few sentences long, and should be both emotionally compelling and forward-looking (meaning that it lays out your aspirations and vision for the future).
If writing a statement like that sounds hard, that’s because it is. When creating your statement, you’re essentially trying to boil down your 4-7 page case for support into just 1-3 short sentences. This means you’ll need to carefully consider each word in your statement and cut out any unnecessary phrases.
Your nonprofit mission statement will become a succinct summary that you use across your organization’s communications (and particularly in your donor communications). It should appear on your website, on the wall at your office, on your brochures, and in your newsletter. It’s not a tagline (your supporters won’t remember it word for word), but it should clearly articulate your mission and your aspirations as an organization.
4 Rules for a Great Nonprofit Mission Statement
The best way to create your nonprofit mission statement is to follow these 4 rules:
#1: Don’t Try to Be All Things to All People
The reason many nonprofits fail is that they try to have their mission statements be all things to all people. Often, this means having the statement written by a committee, or passing the statement around and making dozens of changes to ensure that every board member and every senior staff leader is happy with the statement.
Nonprofit mission statements that are written this way are doomed to fail. Treat the process like an ad agency pitching a client a new tagline: have one staff member write several really good and polished statements, then seek advice from a core group of the organization’s leaders. Then, make some revisions and choose the best one. Whatever you do, don’t have a committee write this statement for you.
#2: Focus on the Why, Who, and How
Your mission statement should focus on three main things: why you exist, who you serve, and how you serve those people.
For the why, you should focus on the big picture, and cast a big vision. “We want to end hunger in Cincinnati by the year 2027.”
For the who, be specific. “We support veterans returning to Philadelphia from overseas deployments.”
For the how, group your services into big-picture categories. “We provide pre-natal care, including ultrasounds, nutrition guidance, and mother-to-be classes.”
(Note that the above are not complete mission statements, just portions. Keep reading below to see some examples of complete nonprofit mission statements).
#3: Be Direct and Succinct
Your nonprofit mission statement is not the place to be circumspect or to create a word salad. Instead, be direct and succinct. What does your organization really do? And why do you exist? Your mission statement is a kind of elevator pitch… you want people who read it to feel inspired, but you also want them to know exactly what you do.
For example, instead of saying “We help San Diego’s most vulnerable citizens find health and harmony in their lives,” you should say, “We help abused children in San Diego find healing: physically, mentally, and spiritually. We do this by providing…”
#4: Cast a Vision
The bigger the vision you cast in your nonprofit mission statement, the more compelling it will be (especially to donors). That’s one of the reasons why so many great mission statements say things like “We will end hunger in…” or “We want to serve every single person who…” Those types of statements cast a big vision and show people that you are serious about your mission.
5 Examples of Compelling Nonprofit Mission Statements
One of the best ways to get inspired to write a great nonprofit mission statement for your organization is to see some examples of great mission statements being used by other organizations.
Here are 5 examples of compelling and inspiring nonprofit mission statements:
“Heifer International works with communities to increase income, improve child nutrition, care for the earth, and ultimately end world hunger and poverty.
Habitat for Humanity
“Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings together people to build homes, communities, and hope.”
“We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy.”
The American Red Cross
“The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”
“Our mission is to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”
Creating a new nonprofit mission statement doesn’t need to take forever. You should be able to write and revise a new statement for your organization over the course of 1-2 months. Now is a great time to take a look at your current mission statement and either revise it or create a brand-new statement for your nonprofit.