A nonprofit mission statement’s purpose is to communicate the essence of an organization. The mission statement includes why you do your work, what you do, how you do it, where you do it and who you do it for. Excellent mission statements are clear, concise, memorable and easy to say. letters

There are many reasons you must have a mission statement:

  1. The IRS requires nonprofits to have a mission statement that is included in the initial filing for tax exempt status and the ongoing annual 990 tax returns.
  2. In order to write grants, foundations and other donors require a mission statement.
  3. The mission statement

a. Distinguishes the nonprofit from other like organizations

b. Guides the board of directors on all decisions they make

c.  Provides the basis for meeting the goals and objectives of the organization

d. Tells the community and donors about your organization

e. Is used by the staff and volunteers as they carry out their daily activities

f.  Provides a shared purpose to all involved with the organization.

Qualities Of Poor And Exceptional  Mission Statements

Vague Clear
General Concise
Uses jargon and buzzwords Easy to understand
Long and complex Short and simple
Unmemorable Memorable
Unrealistic Realistic
Uninspiring Inspiring
Dull Motivational
Boring Exciting

You get the idea.  The mission statement has missed the mark if it can’t be easily remembered, excite the person saying it or inspire the person receiving it.  The specific words used and how they are placed in the statement create a unique and dramatic response for the recipient whether it is being read, heard or spoken out loud.

Components Of The Mission Statement

Mission statements have specific elements that clearly guide how they are written and composed.

  1. A driver, a cause or who is served
  2. An action
  3. A result or impact
  4. Where (geographical location): optional, but often important if serving a specific area

Mission statements can be a few words or a couple of sentences. A review of hundreds of mission statements showed the average word count was 18.

An example of how this looks is:

(Nonprofit Organization) mission is to (action verb) to (state driving issue) to (action verb) (state result/impact of the work) in (location).

Think about the audience. Who is reading the mission statement? This includes the clients being served, donors, foundations, board of directors, staff, volunteers and the general community. The mission statement speaks to all these audiences in a clear, simple and concise manner that is inspiring and motivational.


Short Mission Statements

March of Dimes Foundation saves babies from death and disability.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sees equal value in all lives.

Average length Mission Statements

Manhattan and Bronx Surface transit Operating Authority provides public bus transportation in the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx.

Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) celebrates diverse cultures and welcomes new and broader constituencies; and creates educational opportunities for a wide range of visitors.

Long Mission Statements

Carleton College is devoted to academic excellence, distinguished by the creative interplay of teaching, learning and scholarship and dedicated to our diverse residential community and extensive international engagements.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society.

For more mission statement samples do a google search of “nonprofit mission statement samples”.

How To Create Or Redo A Mission Statement

1. Gather your team.

The team must include your board of directors and staff. You can also invite volunteers, donors, other nonprofit organizations, stakeholders, businesses, and community members. A good size team would be 10-15 people who are vested in the success of the organization. They must be willing to commit 8-24 hours of time in building and developing the mission statement. They should be people with critical thinking skills that are open to a dynamic process and able to share their thoughts and ideas.

2. Plan the location.

It is beneficial to find a location separate from the organization offices and where there is room for break out groups, easels, creative expression and interactive activities. If affordable, having a full day or two days to create the mission statement is ideal. However a couple of four hour meetings can work as well.

3. Hire a facilitator.

If the organization has the financial resources, hiring a facilitator is a great idea. They can help guide the group conversations especially during emotional times of the process. They can provide guidance during times the group becomes stuck in the process. If unable to hire a facilitator, assign a person from the group to provide guidance during the process.  Set up a consultation for this right Now.

gather your team

4. Techniques

  1. Storytelling: Break out into smaller groups and have the groups develop a story of the organization. The story can be an actual case study of who and how the organization helped or a projection of what the organization intends to do. The story should have vivid language. It’s helpful to have a thesaurus (online or hard copy) available to look up words. The groups come back together and read their story.
      1. The facilitator writes down words that are the same or similar.
      2. Discussion around the stories and words should be encouraged.
      3. Diagram the places mentioned, people mentioned, actions and problems identified in the stories
  2. Verb identification: Have individuals write down, without consulting with others, on post it notes action verbs that best describes what the organization is doing. Have the facilitator gather like verbs together and identify the most identified action verbs.
    1. Answer Questions: Gather the group and have them answer several questions about the organization.
      1. Who benefits from the work of the organization?
      2. What services are provided?
      3. What problems are being solved?
      4. What cause(s) is being supported?
      5. Who are the partners/collaborators/like nonprofits?
      6. Why do you exist?
      7. Whom do you serve?
      8. How are they served?
      9. What are your goals?
      10. What are your objectives?
      11. Where are your services being provided?

Take these questions highlight the driver, action, result and location. Pull them together in a one sentence format. Create at least 5 separate sentences that each could become the mission statement by itself.

5. Review of Statements

Once the group has 5 mission statements it is time to tweak them and vote on them. The statements may blend into each other or be deleted. This process is about finding just the right words in just the right way to create the perfect statement.

6. Use And Review Of The Mission

The mission statement should be read at every board and staff meeting. It should be on the website, in marketing materials, on social media and at every event. It should be read aloud whenever possible and those in the organization should memorize it to easily share. Treat it as an elevator speech and make sure it is being said the same by everyone. The board and staff should review the mission annually to make sure it is still in line with what the organization is doing. If there are changes to the goals of the organization, the mission statement should be changed to address those changes. The IRS requires the mission statement in the 990 forms and foundations want to know that you are still doing what you say you are doing.