How to Fix Your Nonprofit Mission Statement Right Now, Once and For All

To get going with content marketing, you’ll probably have to do something you don’t wan to do.

Revisit your mission statement.

Why your mission?

This statement is at the heart of your nonprofit’s identity. Without it, people don’t really know who you are or what you do.

Some nonprofit marketers equate a nonprofit mission statement with a tagline or slogan, but I don’t agree.

A slogan can be very catchy alright, but your mission statement is a longer paragraph that describes your benefit.

So, could most people associate you with your mission? Could you even cite your mission without missing a beat?

If you’re getting red in the face because your mission statement could be better, don’t worry: you can fix it!

Below are the most common mission-statement problems I’ve come across, plus a method to get the statement all shiny and new again.

Ready? Let’s go.

Nonprofit Mission Statement Sins

1. The Service Page

Many nonprofits use mission statements to give a service rundown.

But saying that you provide food assistance or youth programs for inner-city kids doesn’t say what benefit your programs provide or why your approach is any better than anyone else’s.

2. The Clear as Mud

This mission statement goes in the opposite direction of the service page with something like, “We provide services because our services are important.”

Which immediately raises questions: What services? Important to whom? Why?

Those unanswered questions can put people off.

3. The Missing in Action

Uh, where is your mission statement again?

On a page buried in your website? Maybe lost in a long-ago annual report? Or–gasp–may you never got around to writing one!

If your mission isn’t immediately visible, you’ll lose people before they even get to know you.

4. The Multiple Personality

Do you have a separate mission for your website, Facebook page and Twitter account?

The problem here is in the stickiness factor. The more your mission varies, the less people will remember it.

5. The Jargon Fest

Have the words “adaptive functioning,” “continuum of service,” “delivery model,” or “interventions” crept into your mission?

Let’s be honest: No one wants to see that.

Enough said!

6. The History Lesson

This mission is similar to the Service Page, but with the emphasis on the “when” instead of “what.”

Is the first thing that people need to know about you the year you were founded? Probably not.

The Root of the Wayward Mission Statement

If you take a look at all the “sins” above, you’ll see that mission statements that drop the ball generally come from info gaps or a lack of clarity.

All of these can be filled by trotting out your trusty 5W’s:

  • Whom do you serve?
  • What services do you provide?
  • (When do you provide them?)
  • (Where do you them?)
  • Why do you provide these services?

You’ll notice the When and Where are in parentheses, as these may or may not be relevant to your mission: i.e, a summer camp may focus on the “when,” while a local collective garden may focus on the “where.”

However, the Who, What and Why have to be there somewhere.

Once you’ve filled the gaps, great. But don’t stop there.

The next step is to drill down to the three “What’s:”

  1. What is the problem you solve or need you fill?
  2. What is your approach to the problem or need?
  3. What is the value of your approach or why do you believe it will work?

The “What’s” provide that ultimate benefit to your service; in other words, the “so what” of your mission.

Examples of good mission statements

Head and Hands (a Montreal youth services agency): “Head & Hands’ mission is to work with youth to promote their physical and mental well-being. Our approach is preventative, inclusive, non-judgmental, and holistic, with a fundamental commitment to providing an environment that welcomes youth without discrimination.”

Calgary Domestic Violence Collective: “The Calgary Domestic Violence Collective works with members to provide a coordinated response to violence prevention in Calgary. We strongly believe that increasing public awareness, providing education, and working to improve legislation can assist in prevention.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters (US): “Provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.”

Get Beneficial

You can see from these examples that a mission statement isn’t really a catchy tagline.

And slogans like “Just do it” or “Spreading ideas” don’t explain your value or give donors a reason to give.

For your content marketing to hang together, you need a very short text that immediately communicates the benefit you provide, without jargon or vagueness

Because if you don’t have a consistent mission with a clear benefit, the rest of your content marketing efforts will be disconnected, and people won’t get what you do.

To fix your mission, quickly run down the 5W’s to find your gaps, then use the three What’s to get deep into your benefits.

Just a 15-minute exercise and voilà! Your new statement can serve your content marketing for years to come.


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