Whether you are a new nonprofit organization or have been around for years, it is important to have a mission statement as part of your nonprofit business plan. Your mission statement should describe what your group does and why you do it. It also serves as a guide for future planning and provides a standard against which to measure the performance of every decision made by your group.
A mission statement must be:
- Clear and Concise – It should be a clear and concise description of your group.
- Approachable – Make sure it is easy to understand for everyone who reads it, including staff members, board members, volunteers, donors, and others.
- Measurable – Try to make your mission statement measurable whenever possible. For instance, instead of saying you want to “prevent global warming” try saying “we want to reduce carbon emissions by x%” or “we are committed to reducing our own carbon footprint by y%”.
- Time-bound – It should state exactly what you hope to accomplish and by when.
- Success-focused – If your group is focused on results, your mission statement should reflect that. Make sure it can be measured and achieved somehow.
What Should a Mission Statement Include?
Your nonprofit organization’s mission statement will typically include four main components:
- Who You Are. This part describes the different types of people who belong to your group and what they have in common. It could also list the type of clients or members you serve, such as “children” or “veterans”.
- What You Do. This part should list exactly what you do and who benefits from it. For instance: “We help students succeed in school.”
- How You Do It. This part of the statement specifies how you go about completing your mission. For example: “We support students by partnering with schools and parents to provide programs that create a safe, healthy learning environment for all children”.
- Benefits of Membership/Contributions. This part of the statement highlights some of the benefits for people who join or support your group. This could include tax incentives, free services, and/or recognition.
You may also want to include:
- Why Your Organization Exists – This is a short explanation of why you exist and what inspired you to start your nonprofit organization in the first place.
- The Bigger Picture – This shows how your group fits within the bigger picture and links it to a greater mission or cause.
What Not to Include:
- Do not use acronyms, jargon, or vague language. These will only confuse people and make it difficult for them to understand what you are trying to say.
- Don’t be too wordy – A mission statement is a brief statement, not a book.
- Do not make your mission statement too narrow – While it should be specific enough to make people understand what you do and how you plan on achieving your goals, it also needs to be broad enough to encompass the overall vision of your group’s work.
Tips for Writing an Effective Mission Statement For Your Nonprofit
The following are guidelines for crafting an effective mission statement.
1. Know your audience
Your mission statement should be focused on the future and addressed to your organization’s stakeholders (donors, volunteers, staff members). Think about what each of them needs to know in order to understand how you serve their needs.
2. Be clear and concise
Brevity is the soul of wit, so keep your mission statement short and sweet. You can include more information in subsequent communications if necessary or desired.
3. Keep it relevant
Your mission statement should be a living document that reflects your organization’s current activities and goals and remains up to date as you change and grow. Your mission statement should underscore the uniqueness of what you do in comparison to similar organizations.
4. Reference your vision
As an organization, you may have a mission statement that is also part of your organizational vision (which describes where your group intends to go in the future). If this is the case, make sure there are linkages between your mission statement and your vision.
5. Be realistic
Don’t attempt to take on too much at once or promise something you can’t deliver. You want to make sure that the activities outlined in your plan support the goals of your organization; avoid referring to a mission statement that is unrelated to the work that you do or if you are not clear about the relationship between your activities and your mission statement.
6. Include the “mission” in your name
If you are starting a new organization, make sure that one or more of the words in your name refers to your mission. This may be built into the name itself (e.g., Make-A-Wish Foundation) or may be achieved by using a modifier (e.g., National Alliance on Mental Illness).
7. Keep it fresh
Your mission statement should not sound like your previous mission statement or look like your competitor’s statement. Avoid long, meandering sentences and fancy language (more than two lines of prose is discouraged). Be flexible enough to include new directions and programs as you evolve.
8. Provide a call to action
The best mission statements end with a “call to action” that tells your audience what they should do next. This could be as simple as “help save the pandas today at www.panda.org.”
Your mission statement is an internal document that should serve as a guide for future activities and programs. It is not necessary to publish your mission statement and you do not need approval from the IRS or any other government or public agency before using it.
However, your mission statement should accurately reflect the work that you do and provide information about how you serve your public. Here are several examples of nonprofit organizations and their mission statements to get you inspired.
Sample Nonprofit Mission Statements
YMCA of the USA
“To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.”
United Way of America
“To improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world to advance the common good.”
American Cancer Society
“The American Cancer Society is a nationwide, community-based health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service.”
“To create and foster a spirit of understanding among the peoples of the world.“
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
“Our mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported 1-to-1 relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.”
“Kensington Symphony Development Society is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization created to support the educational and artistic mission of Kensington Symphony Orchestra in its efforts to promote symphonic music education in Southern Alameda County.”
“We are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that the world’s children are safe, healthy, and educated.”
“We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy.”
American Heart Association
“The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – America’s No. 1 and No. 5 killers.”
Boy Scouts of America
“The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”
Girl Scouts USA
“Our vision is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”
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 enhance the quality of life for all as we age — helping people 50+ find jobs, financial security, and health & wellness.”
Keep in mind that writing a mission statement is an ongoing process. The mission statement you draft today will likely change over time as your nonprofit grows and matures. Your mission statement should also be reviewed periodically to ensure that it is still relevant to organizational activities. Once you have the words down, the next step is ensuring that all programs implemented by your organization are in line with your vision for success.
Other Helpful Nonprofit Business Planning Articles
- Nonprofit Business Plan Guide & Template
- How to Write a Nonprofit Business Plan
- 10 Tips to Make Your Nonprofit’s Business Plan Stand Out
- 3 Sample Nonprofit Business Plans For Inspiration
- Strategic Planning for a Nonprofit Organization
- How to Write a Marketing Plan for Your Nonprofit Business
- 4 Top Funding Sources for a Nonprofit Organization
- What is a Nonprofit Organization?
- 20 Nonprofit Organization Ideas For Your Community