Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Conversation about Mission Statements

In pulling together some material for a guest appearance with Dalya Massachi's Writing Wednesdays on March 20, I took a look at the finalists in the Great Mission Statement Competition for the past three years. These fine statements do not follow a single formula, but seem to fall into five categories:

Articulate Strategy
The approach I find most powerful is one that makes the mission statement a clear guide for framing the work of the organization. Any program or service can be measured against the mandate articulated in the statement:
Reduce social isolation, enhance the quality of life, and preserve the dignity of elders and adults with disabilities in the greater Boston area.
Centerpoint Institute for Life and Career Renewal:
offers lifelong tools to navigate uncertainty, build meaningful careers, and design courageous lives.

Frame Vision
Another option is rather than to offer a specific armature for action, to make a strong statement of purpose in more visionary terms:
Girls' LEAP Self-Defense:
Empowering girls and young women to value and champion their own safety and well-being.
Museum of Science and Industry:
Inspire and motivate our children to achieve their full potential in the fields of science, technology, medicine and engineering.
People for Parks: works for the day that all kids in Los Angeles are within walking distance of a safe park.

By condensing the vision a little further, the mission statement can have the qualities of a tagline:
Literacy Advance of Houston:
Transforming lives and communities through the doorway of literacy.
EDGE Outreach:
Empowers ordinary people to provide safe, clean drinking water to the world.
HALO Trust:
Getting mines out of the ground, now.
While I would argue that a valuable tool is given up when the statement is as open-ended as those of EDGE and HALO, their pointed power is hard to resist.

Full Circle
The statement of the Mohonk Preserve is quite striking. While its mission is local, the means it uses is to inspire a larger, embracing set of values:
The mission of the Mohonk Preserve is to protect the Shawangunk Mountains by inspiring people to care for, enjoy, and explore the natural world.

Paint Description
A more common technique is to paint a vivid picture of what the organization is trying to achieve:
Cancer Connection:
is dedicated to encouraging and guiding people living with cancer and their loved ones along the cancer journey, from diagnosis through treatment and beyond.
Can Do Canines:
is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities by creating mutually beneficial partnerships with specially trained dogs.
The Humane Society of Flower Mound: is dedicated to promoting a respectful, responsible, and compassionate relationship between animals and people.
San Diego Coastkeeper:
aims to protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego County.

These statements are quite different from each other, and accomplish different things. One size doesn't fit all.

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