Non-profits: If need you a committee to obsess over your mission statement, you may not have a real mission

It happens all the time in the non-profit sector: Some type of strategic planning or self-study committee is appointed, and its first task is to draft (or re-draft) the organization’s mission statement.

For the next couple of months, committee members laboriously exchange drafts of proposed mission statements, adding this line, taking out another, haggling over what might be implied or inferred, fearing that one constituency or purpose is overemphasized while another is ignored, and so forth.

All of this time and effort typically leads to a banal paragraph that will be forgotten once approved, and deservedly so.

Purpose-driven organizations

If your organization has a genuine sense of shared purpose, any well-placed stakeholder should be able knock out a solid mission statement in less than an hour and then quickly gain consensus approval from the others. They would regard the mission statement as a no-brainer, a necessity whose content is more or less self-evident.

Floundering organizations

Many not-so-directed non-profits believe that if they can just nail down the mission statement, the rest will follow. Some even delude themselves into thinking that others actually judge organizational performance by what’s in the mission statement, when in reality the mission statement — at best — is merely a framing device for building expectations.

One might claim, the process of drafting our mission statement will help us to figure out who and what we are. To that I would reply, if that’s the case, then it’s likely that the resulting document either (1) will be so safe and vague as to say nothing; or (2) will try to set out a bolder course, without getting buy-in from the rest of the organization. 

Mission, where are you?

To sum up: If you’re on a committee charged with drafting a mission statement, and your group is in its sixth week of exchanging drafts, this alone should tell you volumes about the state of your organization.

One response

  1. The biggest problem with misson statements is they are only as good as those that stand behind them and that is rare. Many times organizations hae them in place to look good to the public, but they never really have good intentions of enforcing them. very sad.
    Mel Dening

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