As more people donate to more non-profits (a total of more than $400 billion), non-profits are becoming more sophisticated and competitive in their fundraising efforts. Taking a page from for-profit brands, they are investing time and resources in their marketing and communications strategies and building high-performance internal teams.
That all begins with a clear and compelling statement of the non-profit’s mission. A well-crafted mission statement reflects the organization’s vision and core values. It flows from the overarching mission of the organization, which should meet these seven key criteria:
- The mission must be feasible and attainable. Achieving it should be possible — if not near-term than certainly in the long-term.
- It must be clear enough so that stakeholders (donors, non-profit team members, partners) can understand what actions they must take to achieve it.
- It needs to be precise — neither too broad or too narrow.
- When applied to action, it should be measurable.
- All stakeholders should be able to believe it. In other words, it must be credible.
- It should be memorable and unique.
- It should be inspiring.
Developing a solid and compelling mission statement takes time. Because the phrase needs to be pithy and yet unique, selecting the exact words can be challenging. it should encapsulate who your organization serves and what it does.
Differentiating your own non-profit from the thousands of others requires you to consider the specific role that your organization plays in changing beliefs, human (and animal) lives, and our planet.
Here are 13 powerful mission statements, organized by cause category. They should enable you to craft (or re-craft) your non-profit’s own statement. In turn, that will help shape your marketing and communications messaging, your hiring strategies, and your donor and partner relationship-building.
Environmental/Sustainability Mission Statements
Nature Conservancy: “To conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.” Lands and waters is a specific realm, but all life broadens it. Note too how the mission, vision, and values are showcased on the non-profit’s website.
Charity: Water: “To bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries.” By limiting the population the organization serves, they focus their mission.
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI): “To transform global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future.” Formed in 1982, this environmental non-profit is focused primary on energy solutions.
Center for Biological Diversity: “Saving life on earth.” This relatively young non-profit is highly-rated by Charity Navigator because of its operating efficiency. Although the mission statement is the shortest and broadest of the examples in this list, it clearly defines the organization’s purpose — focusing on animals and plants.
Education Mission Statements
Yonkers Partners in Education: “Partners with students to ensure they are ready for, enroll in, and complete college.” This statement is unique in that it marries the way in which its non-profit operates with its mission. Utilizing the word “partner” in the mission statement conveys its collaborative approach and not just its goal.
Jumpstart: “Provides language, literacy, and social-emotional programming for preschool children from under-resourced communities and promotes quality early learning for all.” Longer than many mission statements, this one is highly descriptive and specific. Donors know immediately who the non-profit serves and what it delivers.
Khan Academy: “To provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” Although this statement is extremely broad, it is compelling and aspirational.
Human Services Mission Statements
Fathers Incorporated: “Building stronger families, one father at a time.” Pithy and powerful, these words clearly state the objective of the organization.
National Public Radio (NPR): “Work in partnership with Member Stations to create a more informed public — one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.” Although wordy, this one is highly inclusive and descriptive and the use of the word “invigorated” gives the reader a sense of the brand’s personality.
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.” Founded in 1881, ths non-profit uses a visual that references its history on its website. Its mission is broad and powerful enough to withstand the test of time and, like some of the other examples, references the people who support it.
Health Mission Statements
American Cancer Society: “To save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer.” Bold and aspirational, these words sum up a huge challenge in a positive way.
St Jude Children’s Research Hospital: “To advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of our founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.” Although the second part of this mission statement doesn’t follow the traditional “rules” of crafting a phrase, it pays homage to the organization’s past and present beliefs. Generating revenue of $2.3 billion, the non-profit is clearly effective in its marketing.
Limbitless Solutions: “To empower confidence and increase accessibility in the limb difference community through art-infused bionics.” Mission statements are not just for well-established organizations. Founded in 2014, this organization is leveraging new technologies to fulfill its mission. The term “art-infused bionics” may pique potential donors’ curiosity.
This list and grading system provides more examples of mission statements. Applying a “grade level” system, it critiques statements based on level of complexity and number of words. If you are forming a new non-profit or re-thinking your current mission, this technique can be helpful in organizing the words you are contemplating and how they will ultimately fit together.
Word from the Wise
Non-profit professionals weigh in on the power of the statement and how to create a powerful one.
Says Kenneth Braswell, CEO of Fathers Incorporated, “You should treat your mission statement like your first impression or your one chance-of-a-lifetime 15-second elevator speech…When developing your mission statement, you should search your heart and allow your uncensored voice to speak. Then, go back and use keywords/phrases to summarize your uncensored voice with the goal of creating a credo that everything about your business emulates.”
Page Sacks, Director of Communications & Special Events of Walk With Sally, adds that “A good mission statement will speak directly to what the organization does, while also mentioning the impact with a nod to potential outcomes.” The organization “provides hope through our individualized mentoring and community support services to empower children experiencing trauma through a parent, guardian or sibling’s cancer journey.” In this case “providing hope” is the outcome and can be measured over time.
You Have a Mission Statement…Now What?
Before you finalize it, look at it objectively in light of similar non-profits’ statements. When a donor is choosing a cause will your statement be powerful and unique enough to stand up against other similar organizations’ promises? Will your statement withstand the test of time? (If your organization’s mission changes, you will most likely need to rethink your mission statement as well.)
Be sure to share it on your website…in your donor outreach…and with every current and prospective employee.
Measure outcomes. Are you delivering what you committed to deliver via your programming?
Above all, live and breathe the spirit of your mission statement. At the end of every quarter (or other critical phase) ask yourself, your team, and your Board, “How have we made these words come alive?” Because without that, your statement is just words on a screen or page.