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Great Missions are not Impossible.... (just necessary!)

You may recall “Mission Impossible” debuting on television and later evolving into a successful film franchise. However, in the nonprofit and business sectors, some see “mission impossible” at the prospect of developing an effective organizational mission (yes, they are still relevant.) Well, it is not impossible, but there are some aspects of a mission that deserve careful attention and crafting.

As I related in an earlier blog post, the value of missions has been under siege for the past several years. I blamed the fall from favor on poor crafting, frustration, ineffective implementation, and sub-par leadership. I provided evidence of waning discussion and an attraction to the new shiny objects among planning documents like statements of purpose and core values. In the interim, some groups lumped missions and visions together, creating even more confusion and inferior mission statements.

As a potential guiding star, missions still serve a valuable purpose and if you are not experiencing the value of yours, you may be at a disadvantage to your colleagues. While the previous article focused on the value of missions, the focus here is on the aspects of a “great” mission. There are dozens of considerations when building a new mission or revising an existing one, but these five key considerations should be on your checklist for review.

Clear and Concise

Effective mission statements must be clear and concise in conveying the “what” of your organization. I normally recommend 25 words or less. Why not face it? Brevity mirrors the needs of our culture today. We want the information quick and we need it now.

Brevity also enhances the ability to commit this statement to memory, and we need it to be readily available in decision making, on agendas, screen savers, surveys, etc. We want our employees and volunteers to grasp its spirit, another reason to be succinct. Missions can become bloated with the “how” and “why” of what you do, and there is another place for those, so avoid them at all costs and stick with the “what.”

Goal & Action Oriented

Focus on outcomes and eliminate the words that extol your efforts. “We strive to,” “We seek to.” These are well and good but what is the effect? Commit to sharing the goals and results of those actions. Supporters need to be able to measure how you are doing so tell them what your work accomplishes.

Avoid starting a mission statement with words or phrases like "to be," "our mission is," etc. Instead, consider opening the statement with an action verb in its present tense. This gives the reader the sense that action is taking place right now. Rather than "Our mission is to develop new…," simply start with "Developing new…." One can feel the difference and it launches the action.

Easily Relatable

Your mission needs to be relatable, and it needs to create linkage with its audience. The reader of a relatable mission is more likely to be able to convey its value to another, maybe a customer, a staff member, or a volunteer.

Experience tells me the lack of support for a mission is not always a function of the mission conceptually. Rather, the problem is in management’s failure to create a line of sight, the mission’s construction, and its lack of inspiration or engagement for staff and volunteers. Relatable missions make it real and help solve those issues as well.

Engaging & Inspiring

Inspiring and engaging missions are a work of art. They stir emotions, make connections, focus on value and accomplishment. Missions with these traits emerge from engagement with supporters and implementers and demonstrate why gathering input from those who carry you is so critical. Which expectations of theirs, for your organization or task force, will add value? Incorporate their input through at least a few words within the mission and they will be more engaged as a result.

Narrowly Focused

Broad missions can seem out of reach, a bit "pie in the sky" and too "dreamy." Too many aspirations encroach into vision territory and degenerate the mission into a marketing statement or slogan, doing a disservice to the purpose. Finally, broad missions will not provide the direction your leaders need to facilitate decision making.

A narrower mission tends to be easily comprehended. This laser focus puts it within reach and builds trust in your ability to succeed, while magnifying the unique qualities of your business or cause. You can't be everything to everybody so don't try to be in your mission. While narrow is good, great missions are not "too narrow" to restrict growth and expansion.

In the end, it is obvious that for some, mission statements have been an activity, something to be checked off the list, and developed simply because a consultant said you needed one. That kind of mission ends up in a frame or binder and is hardly ever referenced. However, an effective, guiding star type of mission is embraced by all, actively referenced, and lives within the culture of a thriving organization. Which mission sounds like yours?

David J. Fry, CDT, MPS is President/CEO of Effective Advancement Strategies in Greensburg and consults with businesses and nonprofits throughout Indiana. He may be contacted at

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