How to Write a Mission Statement
Created by Camille Winer
No matter what era we live in, you can always be certain of uncertainties, disruptions, innovation, and major shifts. How can you strengthen your nonprofit brand to better prepare to adapt to the promise of constant change?
A commitment to a clear working mission can plant your organization solidly in the broader landscape, streamline adaptive decision-making, align all stakeholders with a shared purpose, inspire innovation, and create resilience during times of turbulence.
What is a Mission Statement?
There has been a lot written over the years on the terms “mission,” “purpose,” and “values.” What a mission statement could include has evolved over the years since corporate responsibility became an issue.
Mission should go beyond four walls
Ten to 15 years ago, a mission statement prioritized a goal that centered around what a company did; it got into the specifics around products and services and was usually two or three sentences long.
Increased progress has illustrated the need for organizations to see a purpose that goes beyond the company itself. Too much focus on products and services can impede a company's vision of the future and can result in hitting a wall.
For example, Eastman Kodak is a company that fell behind in its industry. So focused was Kodak on being the leader in film photography that it was surpassed by companies that had their sights set on bigger things.
A mission statement circa 2015 from Kodak reads:
At Kodak, we believe that doing well by shareholders also means doing right by customers, employees, neighbors, and suppliers. With that in mind, Kodak operates its facilities, and designs and markets its products and services, not only to increase shareholder value, but also to promote development of the individual, the well-being of the community, and respect for the environment.
This mission statement is very focused on the company itself and reads more like a claim of corporate responsibility than something that all stakeholders could feel inspired by.
Mission should evolve over time
In contrast, one iteration of Seventh Generation's mission statement read:
We’re on a mission to transform the world into a healthy, sustainable & equitable place for the next seven generations.
The current mission is:
To inspire a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations.
In their recent update, the company exchanged the phrase "consumer revolution" with "transform the world." It's easy to see that SG understands the importance of a mission statement that is aspirational, bold, and goes beyond what the organization does or makes.
While working on a Sustainable MBA, my final project centered around a passion to elevate the function of marketing toward a more sustainable world through our agency's work. A noble goal, yet when we worked on our mission, we realized that in being so inwardly focused on our agency, we hadn't considered that what really motivated us to work hard each day was bigger—to combine our beliefs with our skill and expertise toward bettering the world.
Our process brought us to our mission to make the world a better place every day. It has given us the space to innovate and adapt in ways that honor our common goal. It has provided a rich purpose that keeps us going through joys and challenges and has created a differentiation strategy that fits with who we are.
Defining mission statement for today's world
A contemporary definition of a mission statement is well articulated by authors Chip Conley and Eric Friedenwald-Fishman from one of my favorite marketing books, Marketing that Matters: 10 Practices to Profit your Business and Change the World:
A powerful mission statement articulates the...aspirational and often audacious outcome that an organization is pursuing.
How to give birth to a true mission statement
Crafting a mission statement is a soul-searching quest that can't be rushed. Capturing something that has meaning—not just words or platitudes—is not an easy process. It can be a process that is very personal to you and your team; use tools that resonate for your own process.
These are some of the things that we've used to guide ourselves and also used with clients that we've helped with this process:
- Invite members of your team in and make it a group effort. Set aside brainstorming sessions, or make it a retreat with an uninterrupted focus that invites opportunities for inspiration and reflection.
- Start by reflecting on your service or product and what need it fills in the market. What value is being created?
- Here are some other questions to ask
- What do we do? How do we do it?
- Whom do we do it for?
- What value are we bringing?
- What level of service do we provide?
- What three words or phrases would we use to describe our mission?
A great mission statement can be short and sweet. In fact, the more succinct, the better; "short in length and big in vision" is what Chip Conley and Eric Friedenwald-Fishman suggest.
Consider again the Seventh Generation mission statement:
To transform the world into a healthy, sustainable & equitable place for the next seven generations
Look at the powerful words and meanings they’ve managed to pack into one small statement: transform, sustainable, equitable.
Once you have completed the process and have a mission statement, celebrate and share it with everyone in the company, and then plan a strategy to roll it out in all of your communications and operations.
An aspirational mission statement that reflects a higher purpose than the products and services themselves has the power to bring together multiple stakeholders with a common goal that is meaningful to each person. The power of this alignment provides a vital foundation for a successful and sustainable organization.