Sunday, November 4, 2012

Third Annual Mission Statement Competition Finalists

There was a big jump in the number of entries this year, both in the Great Mission Statement category and in the Mission Statement Makeover category. It will take us some time to work our way through the Makeover entries, so stay tuned for that.

To select the semifinalists, I invited three colleagues with nonprofit writing and editing expertise to join me. They were:

  • Claire Axelrad, Principal, Axelrad Social Benefit Consulting

  • Scott Bechtler-Levin, Vice President for Collective Impact, Good Done Great

  • Hillel Bromberg, Director of Grants Development and Administration, Families United in Educational Leadership

Early last week we sifted through a lot of mission statements from very diverse group of organizations that appear to be doing great work across the globe (see last Tuesday’s blog post), managed to pick six semi-finalists in the Great Statement category and presented them in our webinar What’s a Mission Statement Worth?

Help us to pick the winner

Please take a look at the finalists (below) and help us to select the best of the best. To weigh in, submit comments to this blog. You’re welcome to make a pitch for your organization’s mission statement, but no anonymous comments please. We will consider only attributed comments, and post only ones that make a case for why the statement meets either the criteria for excellence summarized below or your own.

During the webinar we described the role of a mission statement, noted its critical characteristics, and shared examples of different kinds of successful—and almost successful—ones.

Briefly summarized, a mission statement has external and internal functions.

  • Externally, a mission statement is a branding and positioning tool that gets and holds the attention of the public, and underpins the case for giving.
  • Internally, a mission statement should inspire stakeholders, provide clarity and focus for operations, fortify strategic thinking, structure planning, and point to metrics that will indicate successes.

Some mission statements are very close to taglines, primarily aimed at grabbing attention ; others are crafted more to differentiate one organization from others in the same field. Each nonprofit has its own set of issues, and somewhat different criteria for its mission statement. But in broad terms, a mission statement should articulate the essence of why your organization exists. It can encompass what you are, but should avoid explaining what you do and how. It should be accurate (specific, sufficiently broad, appropriately focused), accessible (concise, simply stated, jargon-free) and effective (differentiating, memorable, compelling).

For more detail on these points you can access the slides or a recording of the webinar and/or take a look at Critical Issues #7: On Mission.

We’ll announce the winner in mid-December.

The finalists:

Literacy Advance of Houston
Transforming lives and communities through the doorway of literacy.

This statement is succinct, compelling and memorable. The words are all well-chosen and vivid. It is very much a why statement, not a how. Scott said that he liked the word picture (’doorway of literacy’) and the focus on outcome. Claire thought the statement would make a great tagline. Hillel: “it’s evocative and inclusive, and implies the impact of literacy education. The wording offers a nice visual image.”

People for Parks, Los Angeles
People for Parks works for the day that all kids in Los Angeles are within walking distance of a safe park.

During the webinar I mentioned the overlap among mission statements, taglines and vision statements. Just as the previous statement could be a tagline, this statement could be a vision statement, but that does not make it any the less powerful as a mission statement. Claire: “Aspirational, simple, clear and direct. I can already picture the children being helped.” Scott “Their vision is compelling.”

San Diego Coastkeeper
San Diego Coastkeeper aims to protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego County.

The explanation submitted with this entry sums up my assessment: “In 17 words, San Diego Coastkeeper… provides the image of people actively fighting and protecting our waters for a better future…. Using descriptive words, it provides a picture of what we could have if we just work for it.”
Hillel: “The unusual usage of words grabs attention and makes their goals clear and memorable.” Scott: “I like that it humanizes the benefit of the work they do. Disclaimer: I live / work / surf / sail in San Diego County (but I have no direct relationship).”

Please comment below to help us select the winner.

The other semifinalists:

Can Do Canines
Can Do Canines is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities by creating mutually beneficial partnerships with specially trained dogs.
HALO Trust
Getting mines out of the ground, now.
Humane Society of Flower Mound
The Humane Society of Flower Mound is dedicated to promoting a respectful, responsible, and compassionate relationship between animals and people.


  1. Here at Literacy Advance we're so excited to be one of the finalists! We love our mission statement, new in the last few years, as we feel it much better represents us and what we do (the old one was much more wordy and prosaic). It also ties with our logo - which is an open door/open book. We love the idea of daily transformations which is truly what we see in our work in the Houston community.

    If you'd like to see our logo, and mission, in action, we'd love to have you visit our website:, or you can find us on Facebook:

    Thanks again for the honor of being selected!
    Kathryn Bauchelle
    Program Director
    Literacy Advance of Houston

  2. I'm a staff member at Literacy Advance and I love our mission statement! I think it perfectly encapsulates what we do every day, and why we do it. Our goal is to open doors for those with low English literacy, and by doing this we transform lives and communities. As the Outreach Manager (I work with our partners), I see this every day. It's a great place to work, and I love that we have a mission statement to aspire to and be proud of.

  3. I'm a former student and now a staff member at Literacy Advance. I love our mission statement, as it's clearly state what Literacy Advance is doing everyday for people like me and community. Literacy Advance transformed my live through literacy classes. I took English as a Second Language classes which helped me to build strong conversation and other skills in English. Literacy Advance opened a door for me to new opportunities in this country! I'm very happy to be a part of this organization which helps transform people lives through literacy every day. Thank you!

  4. Vote for Literacy Advance, a social media whiz organization on FB! Love your mission statement, which is consistently complemented on your provocative and insightful posts!
    Karen Pappas, Board Chair
    Cape Fear Literacy Council / [email protected]

  5. I have worked with Literacy Advance and their mission statement is a great reflection of their work and an important vision in a diverse city like Houston. Literacy Advance fulfills it's mission by focusing on learners unique goals like employment and financial literacy and being a great parent.
    Stefanie Lopez
    Community Member

  6. When applying for internships, I was drawn to San Diego Coastkeeper because of their mission statement. And after spending time here, you can definitely see how they are aiming to protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego County. And they're aren't doing it alone. They have an army of volunteers and supporters behind them. And this strength in numbers is reflected in the mission statement, which creates a picture of people actively fighting for - or protecting - what they believe in.

    Our mission statement hits each function it needs to have. Externally, with the use of unusual words (fishable, swimmable and drinkable) and it's short impactful sentence, it becomes memorable to our audience.

    Internally, it paints a picture of people actively fighting for what they believe in. This can inspire stakeholders and others to give because it does not provide doubt of what we're doing or where, and it gives hope that if we just work for it, we can all achieve as well as benefit from it.

  7. The power in Literacy Advance's mission statement led me to become a volunteer tutor. I wanted to align with an organization with a clearly stated mission and demonstrated track record. Literacy Advance was the obvious choice. I am so proud of Literacy Advance of Houston for being selected as a finalist! You are so deserving.

  8. Literacy Advance inspires us every day. Great work and a great mission statement!

  9. I work with Literacy Advance as a community partner and their mission statement is a wonderful indicator of the work that they do in the greater Houston area. They truly transform the lives of the learners who come to them. This, in turn, has a huge impact on our community.

    "...the doorway of literacy" reflects a welcoming atmosphere where clients will be met where they are at. This mission statement demonstrates how Literacy Advance invites clients to work towards their individual goals, whether that be gaining literacy skills to talk to their child's teacher or to acquire a better job.