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.

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