Board Member Blues: Is Our Mission Statement Helping or Harming Us

Dear Marissa,

Our Board recently approved a new mission statement. I think it’s too vague. What are your thoughts?


A Little Concerned

Dear A Little Concerned,

To preserve your organization’s identity, I’ve withheld the mission statement you sent me and will instead offer some practical advice about mission statements in general.

I’ll begin with three quick questions that can help assess the effectiveness of a mission statement in minutes. Ready? Here goes:

Question #1
Can your key stakeholders (Board, staff etc.) recite your mission statement from memory?

Question #2
Does your leadership team refer to the mission when making key organizational decisions?

Question #3
Are people inspired to get involved with your organization when they hear your mission statement?

If you answered yes to all three questions, then chances are your mission statement is serving your organization well.

If you answered no to all three, then it may be time for a mission statement review.

If you had a combination of yes and no answers, keep reading. 🙂


CheshirecatdisneyIn the words of Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat, “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

The mission statement is the compass that provides direction for everyone involved in your organization. It is a critical marketing and management tool; the clarity and fidelity of which attributes to the success or demise of hundreds of nonprofit organizations each year.

You can certainly engage in charitable activities with a poorly written mission statement, many organizations do, but underestimating the contribution that a well-defined mission has on an organization’s vitality can be harmful in the long run affecting funding, recruitment and decision making.

An effective mission statement defines a nonprofit’s purpose and reason for existence. It describes who benefits from the organization and how. In fact, a compelling mission statement will spell out the who, what, when, where, why and how an organization intends to makes its vision happen.

A good mission statement should:

  • provide clear direction for the organization,
  • motivate staff and volunteers,
  • appeal to donors and other supporters, and
  • provide a means of evaluating organizational success.


Here are a few tips for writing an effective mission statement:

Tip #1
Avoid the use of jargon, fillers and catch phrases. Mean every word.

Tips #2
Less is more. Strive for clear, concise and memorable. (Avg. of 15 words)

Tip #3
Avoid being too broad (i.e. we do everything and save everyone) and also too narrow (i.e. we serve this food to this block at this time).

Tip #4
Be sure your mission distinguishes your organization from others.

Tip #5
It’s never right the first time! Brainstorm, craft and come back to it later. Ask yourself (and someone else) if your statement passes the three-question test.

Tip #6
Conduct a formal review of your statement every few years to ensure that it remains current and relevant.

So, I ask YOU, do you have a good mission statement???

Have you seen a good mission statement lately? If so, pass it on! We’d love to test our theory.

Hope this helps,


By | 2018-01-31T13:54:33-06:00 October 15th, 2013|Board Governance, Nonprofit, Online Advice|Comments Off on Board Member Blues: Is Our Mission Statement Helping or Harming Us