At its best, a nonprofit's mission statement is a succinct expression of an organization's essential reason for existence or core purpose. Some mission statements may include other elements, such as references to how an organization achieves its impact or what it most values.
Some nonprofits also have a vision statement as a supplement to the mission statement. The most effective present a description of the world as it would exist if the organization were to succeed in achieving its grandest aspirations.
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How it's used
Mission and vision statements establish the long-term direction and goals that guide a nonprofit's daily operations. They provide a foundation for a nonprofit's programs, services, communications, organization and culture.
Internally, mission statements are often used to:
- Inspire, motivate and unify staff, board members and volunteers
- Guide leaders through decision-making and strategic planning processes
- Serve as the root for the organization's intended impact and theory of change
- Set goals and identify measures of success
- Establish and reinforce shared values, norms and beliefs
Externally, mission statements are often used to:
- Inspire and generate external support
- Communicate goals and aspirations to potential funders, collaborators, partners, and beneficiaries
Creating mission and vision statements for a new organization (or revisiting and revising current mission and vision statements) should be a collaborative and participatory process.
- Gather input from board, staff, funders, and current or potential beneficiaries, and the broader community. To create a mission statement, discuss why your organization exists, the problem that you are trying to solve, and your values and beliefs about what it will take to make change in the world. To create a vision statement, reflect on your ultimate goal and dream end state. What kind of success would make your organization obsolete?
- Once key stakeholders reach consensus on the answers to these questions, distill the most important points into compelling statements. Seek to be concise, memorable and inspiring. Avoid jargon, dull or vague language, and complex sentence structures.
- Test your draft statements with a variety of audiences to be sure they are clear and powerful.
- Strategic and business planning
- Scenario and contingency planning
- Intended impact and theory of change
Guide to Creating Mission and Vision Statements
This guide has a list of key questions to ask as you create mission and vision statements, as well as links to well-crafted mission and vision statements.
Defining Mission and Vision
This Candid.org webinar explains the importance of distilling your message and offers ways to engage your board and staff in developing statements they can own.
Examples and case studies
Note: This page was originally featured in the Nonprofit Management Tools and Trends report (2015)