Saturday, December 31, 2011

More Mission Statement Makeovers

Winding up the year, this is the last of three posts on the Mission Statement Makeover competition. Despite the caveat in the first post about writing a mission statement from the outside, our approach for these eight entries will be to suggest some wording for a mission statement and ask the organization—or others—to start a discussion that may ask further—and perhaps better—questions to hone in on the target. For background see the initial post and CI#7: On Mission.

As noted in previous posts, we are omitting organization names from the Makeover submissions. Organizations are welcome to mention them in the discussion thread.

7 Social enterprise

Mission statement:
[org] helps social enterprises understand their customers better and develop more appropriate products through collaborative relationships with local partners in developing countries. We work with a network of local partners who already have connections to diverse communities representing different geographies, socioeconomic status, and livelihoods in addition to deep understanding of local languages and cultures. This network allows us to match our social enterprise clients with their target markets with the level of depth they desire in a cost-effective manner. By consolidating demand, Root Alliance makes community-based market research and product testing affordable and accessible to our clients.

The case for a makeover:
“Our mission statement has a lot of information and we are having hard time to convey it in a succinct but effective manner.”

All the information you need to convey does not need to be in the mission statement. This statement should restrict itself to a compelling case for why the organization exists. The mission statement is the portal for a discussion. Its task is to make people want to go through and find out more (outsiders) or to remind them why they’re involved (insiders).

The essence of the long statement above seems to be “Support social enterprises in developing countries with community-based market research and product testing.” What does that misstate or leave out?

8 Community health

Mission statement:
[org]’s mission is to promote and champion the health and well being of all residents of our community, regardless of ability to pay, primarily through supporting excellence and innovation in the County’s hospital and clinic system.

The case for a makeover:
“Well, I had to look it up in order to write it down, unfortunately. And we are constantly saying ‘our mission is...’ and filling in the blanks with a variety of endings. I feel that if we had a robust and vital statement, or a something more concise/or catchy, our messaging would be much more clear! ”

How much of the current statement is verbal packing around the essential concept? What do you need to add to this: “Support health care delivery to all residents of San Mateo County, regardless of ability to pay”?

9 Experiential learning

Mission statement:
Recognizing that we are in a time of great change, [org] will collaborate with individuals and organizations to support empowering, experiential programs that develop 21st century life skills in interested 6-8th grade students in [name] County.

The case for a makeover:
“I wonder if it’s engaging/succinct enough to be effective in attracting support for our cause.”

Here is the message in fewer than half the words. “To support experiential programs that develop 21st century life skills in middle school students.” Does it leave out any essentials, or just flourishes?

10 Low income students

Mission statement:
[org]’s mission is to transform the lives of accomplished high school students from low-income families by broadening their dreams and preparing them for college success.

The case for a makeover:
“It has been mentioned by several board members that we need to change our mission statement.”

It would be helpful to know what changes your trustees think are needed. Here’s the message in half the words. What does this miss?

[org] prepares low-income, high-achieving high school students for success in college and beyond

11 Wildlife

Mission statement:
[org] is a nonprofit wild animal sanctuary and educational facility. We are dedicated to the lifetime care of abused, neglected, confiscated or unwanted wild animals to prevent them from being destroyed and education of the public to reduce human-wildlife conflicts.

The case for a makeover:
“WAY too wordy - but how do we possibly say it more smoothly?!”

There are two missions here, remediation and prevention: “lifetime care of abused or unwanted wild animals and education to reduce human-wildlife conflicts”

Is that a statement of your mission?

12 Mobility

Mission statement:
[org] is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to Expanding Horizons for persons with disabilities, and Maximizing Potential for disadvantaged persons by providing support in resolving personal transportation issues.

The case for a makeover:
“I find that this statement is too hard to follow and does not flow. We are pretty much a start up non profit and I think if this was worded better we may draw in more donations.”

Is your target population persons with disabilities, disadvantaged people, or both? Beyond that question, it’s not fully clear what you’re trying to do. The best we can do at this point still preserves that vagueness:

  • [org] provides transportation options for disadvantaged persons
  • [org] expands the horizons of disadvantaged persons through transportation options
Let’s see if we can discuss this a bit and get more focused.

13 Addiction

Mission statement:
[org]’s Mission is to lead, unify and empower addiction focused professionals to achieve excellence through education, advocacy, knowledge, standards of practice, ethics, professional development and research.

The case for a makeover:
“Our mission statement, adopted in 1998 has a lot of buzzwords, but doesn’t really capture who we are and what our focus is.”

What is your focus? The first thought that comes to mind is to combine your current mission and vision statements and edit down a bit:

To support addiction professionals in promoting the health and recovery of individuals, families and communities.

What else do you need to include?

14 Jazz

Mission statement:
The [name] Jazz Orchestra brings jazz for large orchestra of the highest quality, with full artistic integrity and in all its diversity for a national and international public

Is your mission “To create and present innovative, diverse orchestral jazz throughout the world?” High quality and artistic integrity might well be assumed. “Diversity” might need some clarification.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mission Statement Makeover: Four more entrants

This post continues our review of entries in this year’s mission statement competition (see the previous post and CI#7: On Mission for background). More to follow.

As noted in the initial post, we are omitting organization names from the Makeover submissions. Organizations are welcome to mention them in the discussion thread.

3 Children’s services

Mission statement:
[org]’s mission is to ensure that children have the fundamental assets they need to thrive: a safe and secure home life; educational excellence and opportunity ; and health and sexuality education.

The case for a makeover:
“The mission statement as it stands is way too long. We need a statement that our employees can remember, something pithy and impactful. ”

The initial phrase of your current statement (“to ensure that children have the fundamental assets they need to thrive”) sounds like a broad statement of mission, but then to focus it more, you resort to what and how, rather than why.

There are two promising phrases at the end of the history section of your website:

“strengthen families and reduce the need for foster care [by] address[ing] the underlying causes of families in crisis”

This may be a mission statement. What do you think? We can discuss this using the comment feature.

4 Collaborative improvement initiative

Mission statement:
The [org]’s mission is to empower and improve the quality of life for [area] residents through catalytic investments and systematic change.

The case for a makeover:
“The [org]’s mission statement is an excellent candidate for a makeover because as a Living Cities Integration Initiative site, our work is unlike many other NPOs, who focus on one or two issues. We are focused on creating change across the public, private and philanthropic sectors through collaborative efforts in eight different areas in three short years. Our work is centered on causing this change in several adjacent neighborhoods that have drastically different socio-economic populations, built environments and private investment levels. At the center of our work are the people who make up the community we are working hard to serve. While our current mission statement reflects a very broad overview of what we do, it truly doesn’t express the difference our work strives to make for the people living and working in the [area]. As a project that is operating under the guidance of ten different organizations across a variety of sectors, we would like to learn how to develop a mission statement that address the global work of the project equally influenced by the collective work of all the organizations that make up our Governance Council. ”

Actually, “to improve the quality of life for [area] residents through catalytic investments and systematic change” seems to capture your mission quite well as you describe it in your makeover case. The other aspects of your effort—your disparate partners, sectors, and neighborhoods, the individual identities on your Governance Council, and your short time frame—can be captured in subsidiary statements that elaborate on the mission statement. If you try to say more in the base statement, you may just weaken its impact.

Often the best approach is to always post the mission statement (in print or on your website) with additional clarifying information: statements of vision, values, and/or principles, listings of your communities, council members and other partners, and some of the initiatives you have in process.

If this doesn’t sound like it’s the approach you need, let’s discuss through the blog’s comment feature and see what else we can discover.

5 Technology provider

Mission statement:
[org] is committed to assisting Jewish organizations in their efforts increase their professionalism and relationship-building capacity through the effective use of technology, by providing internet strategy, general technology, marketing and communications consulting, training and professional development opportunities. [org] believes that every Jewish organization should have the opportunity to function at this high level, regardless of the size of the organization or its budget, and we work to reduce barriers to achieving this level of service to their customers, members and prospects.

The case for a makeover:
“We have made a strategic shift in the last couple years, but the mission statement has not been updated. I feel it says more about our services than our mission. And completely does not capture the uniqueness of our work and impact in our field. ”

One simple and effective technique is to describe conversationally to an uninformed friend or relative what you’re trying to achieve. By listening to what you say, and by answering the basic questions you get in that conversation, you can often discover the nuggets you need for your more formal communications.

You’ve begun to do that in your case for a makeover. What is the strategic shift you have made, and why did you make it? What do you do differently? What are your most fundamental services within your list of “internet strategy, general technology, marketing and communications consulting, training and professional development opportunities”? Why? In what way are you unique? What is your impact?

You can pursue these questions on your own, or if you’d like to use the comment feature of the blog, we’ll ask you some more refined ones.

6 Design museum

Mission statement:
The [name] Museum of Design of the University of [x] is an educational and cultural institution that advances the understanding and appreciation of design and cultivates an awareness that designed objects can contribute to quality of life through effective solutions to human challenges and aesthetic satisfaction.

The case for a makeover:
“As a mission statement, it is long. [name] is an academic museum, so the staff was seeking to include connections to both the university and community in the statement. I would like to see the mission be more user-focused. ”

Within your current statement is what appears to a good core: “[to] advance the understanding and appreciation of design and its contribution to quality of life”. Do you need to say more than that? Everything else seems secondary, and can be accommodated in statements that typically accompany the mission statement.

“Effective solutions to human challenges and aesthetic satisfaction,” are really only two examples of the way design contributes to quality of life. Doesn’t flagging them unnecessarily restrict the mission?

Let’s discuss.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mission Statement Makeover: Overview and First Two Examples

Let’s start with a critical disclaimer: a quick external review can identify ways a mission statement seems to communicate poorly, but it cannot identify what a good mission statement would be for a particular organization. The best it can do is to point out some questions that the organization might need to ask to craft an effective statement of its mission.

If the owners of any of the statements discussed here would like to use the comment function to conduct a discussion, we may be able to dig a little deeper. From this discussion we will select one statement as the Mission Statement Makeover competition winner, and will offer additional assistance to that organization.


A mission statement can have a combination of objectives:

  • Externally it can:
    • attract and hold attention (differentiation, branding, positioning)
    • present the essence of the case for giving
  • Internally it can:
    • Inspire stakeholders
    • Provide clarity, focus and a reference point for prioritization
    • Strengthen strategic thinking
    • Structure planning (strategic, program, business, …)
    • Suggest metrics

To be most effective, a mission statement should be:

  • Simply stated, eloquent and concise
  • Memorable, differentiating and compelling
  • Appropriately focused (balancing specificity and breadth)
To serve these purposes, a mission statement should say why the organization exists and what it is, but should avoid getting into what it does. That level of detail can follow the statement of mission.


We are omitting organization names from the Makeover submissions. Organizations are welcome to mention them in the discussion thread.

1 Academic research center

Mission statement:
To enhance multilateral responses to global problems, including: conflict, humanitarian crises, and recovery; international security challenges, including weapons proliferation and the changing balance of power; and resource scarcity and climate change.

The case for a makeover:
“It’s too long, covers too much ground, too abstract; we are researchers—we do solid research, produce quality reports and have real impact on international policy, but we are terrible at communications.”

The statement lists what you do. What drives you to do these things? What is it about multilateral responses that is important? Perhaps start with a statement of vision, an aspirational view of the future, and see if that suggests some direction for mission.
How do you select issues? If you primarily serve as a resource for funded projects, how do you decide which projects are appropriate? If your mission is to shape international policy through research and publication, in what direction do you want to shape it, and why?
A clear sense of your mission may lie in the answers to these questions, or in the questions that those answers raise. Once you can achieve clarity, the rest of the work on a statement is just refinement.

2 Bridgers of the digital divide

Mission statement:
[institute] is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit charitable institution based in [place] that is dedicated to empowering hardworking economically disadvantaged students to bridge the digital divide and advance their academic and personal achievements by awarding them home PC computers. This is achieved by collecting donated computers, refurbishing, and reusing computers thereby extending their useful lives and reducing e-waste.

The case for a makeover:
“Our organization does great work, but our mission is wordy and confusing. We want a statement that best reflects the impact we make in [state] even as a small nonprofit. Our mission is very tangible yet has lasting impacts. Our mission is very robotic and we are much more of a fun and geeky crowd.”

Let’s start with some pruning. There seem to be two central concepts,
1. empowering hardworking economically disadvantaged students to bridge the digital divide
2. refurbishing, and reusing computers to reducing e-waste

This trimming gets you from 59 to 19 words; the rest is detail that can be noted elsewhere. Are both of these elements the essence of your mission? Or is #2 a side benefit? Would you be just as committed to your work if there were no computer recycling involved? Would you be just as committed if hardware were available elsewhere, and crossing the digital divide required tutoring in software? Depending on your answers to these questions, either #1 is close to a mission statement or perhaps you do #2 in order to achieve #1.

If you’d like, let’s continue this exploration through discussion in the comment box.

More statement examples will follow over the next few days.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Second Annual Mission Statement Competition Winner

Our four finalists this year exemplify four different approaches to the crafting of a mission statement.

  • Cancer Connection (dedicated to encouraging and guiding people living with cancer and their loved ones along the cancer journey, from diagnosis through treatment and beyond) describes its mission in a way that is especially effective for structuring a strategic plan and measuring performance. Last year’s winner took this approach.
  • EDGE Outreach takes a minimalist stance (empowers ordinary people to provide safe, clean drinking water to the world), relying on its mission statement for the impact of a tag line. With a very small tweak it might be even better as a statement of vision—a world where everyone has access to clean safe drinking water—but the notion of empowering “ordinary people” to become the solution is also a very compelling component of the mission.
  • As noted in the finalist post, Mohonk Preserve (to protect the Shawangunk Mountains by inspiring people to care for, enjoy, and explore the natural world) takes an intriguing approach of making broad values and actions (inspiring people to care for, enjoy, and explore the natural world) the means to achieving a more specific goal (protecting a specific natural area). This statement acknowledges the interdependence of the two scales and elegantly frames the context for the organization and the terms of its success.
Each one meets the criteria for excellence as described in our overview, On Mission. They are concise, memorable, compelling, and focus on the question of why the organization exists.

Our fourth—and winning—entry, Centerpoint Institute for Life and Career Renewal offers lifelong tools to navigate uncertainty, build meaningful careers, and design courageous lives. It is a vivid statement, in which there are no wasted words. As some of the many comments we received on this entry observed, it is infused with both passion and purpose, specificity and breadth, clarity and ambition.

In addition to the power of it mission statement, Centerpoint has an active group of supporters, who posted a dozen supporting comments on this blog and sent scores of other comments by e-mail. Congratulations, Centerpoint!

With these excellent examples as a stimulus, other nonprofits may want to ask what they can do to change their mission statements from obligatory boilerplate to powerful tools that add value to their cause.

To that end the next few posts will look at the entries in the Mission Statement Makeover category of the competition, and perhaps give a sense of how to think about editing an unwieldy statement.