Writing For Non-Profit Organizations—The Mission Statement
by Catherine Vermeersch Miyamoto
"Progress has little to do with speed, but much to do with direction." -Author unknown
Even in the business of community service, individuals within an organization depend on leadership and direction to accomplish the work they choose to associate themselves with. Social institutions such as schools, churches, and service organizations have a defined purpose for their existence. To assure the maximum benefits of association with an organization and to afford the best use of limited resources, it is important that individuals within the organization and those interacting with the organization have clear expectations. Technical communications specialists are well equipped to facilitate this transformation of ideas and ideals into an articulate organizational plan. This plan begins with a mission statement.
The etymology of the word mission stems from the Latin word mittere: to send. Semantically, mission relates both to the select group of individuals assigned and to the specific task or charge they mean to accomplish. A clear mission statement endorsed by stakeholders is an important marker of successful non-profit organizations. The mission statement serves to articulate the who, what, why, and where of an organization. A concise, functional definition of purpose facilitates both an internal and an external vision of a non-profit organization. Some organizations draft a core mission statement, and in an expanded version, elaborate on the vision and values that guide the organization in its efforts toward achieving that mission.
Stakeholder endorsement of a non-profit organization's mission statement is important for operational success. Stakeholders include the governing board members, staff, volunteers, donors, clients, and collaborating agencies or parties. With that goal in mind, The Drucker Foundation's guide suggests implementing a work plan for a cross-functional writing team task. Technical communications specialists have the background, tools, and skills to facilitate the process required to develop an organizational mission statement.
The Drucker Foundation Self-Assessment Tool: Process Guide stresses that the language of the mission statement should be precise and plain. This guide recommends the following criteria for evaluating an effective mission statement:
- short and sharply focused
- clear and easily understood
- defines why we do what we do; why the organization exists
- does not prescribe means (methods)
- is sufficiently broad
- provides direction for doing the right things
- addresses opportunities
- matches competence
- inspires our commitment
- says what we want to be remembered for
It can be beneficial for technical communications specialists to involve all stakeholders in the development of the mission statement at the onset. Ideas are surfaced and refined through discussion and explanation. Participation in the process of creating and refining the mission statement offers the opportunity to build productive working relationships in all levels of the organization. Once criteria have been established, a group writing approach may begin with brainstorming sessions to solicit individual input in small groups. Drafts of the mission statement are then shared in writing for focused feedback. The group involved in the writing process may meet repeatedly and refine drafts several times.
The mission statement work plan should offer assurance that each review remains focused and uses the criteria identified for evaluating the proposed mission statement. Final endorsement can be a measurement or validation of how well the members of the organization work together. Once approved by the governing body, the mission statement serves as a design reference for both the vision and values statements that frame the structure of the non-profit organization and the needs it intends to address.
Building a succinct and articulate mission statement lays important groundwork for any non-profit organization. . It is from the foundation of a clear vision that all programs and services will generate. The communications specialist's preparation and experience in technical documentation are an asset in facilitating successful non-profit policy development such as creating a mission statement. Choosing the right words is as important as choosing the right path: each has the potential to move us in the right direction.
"What should our mission statement say?" The Internet Nonprofit Center FAQ, http://www.nonprofits.org/npofaq/03/21.html (viewed on 28 Feb. 2004).
Allison, Michael and Kaye, Jude. 1997. What is the Difference between a Mission and a Purpose? Does it Matter What Words We Use in Defining Certain Planning Concepts?". Nonprofit Genie FAQ Page: Stategic Planning FAQ #13. In Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations. New York: John Wiley & Sons. http://search.genie.org/genie/ans_result.lasso?cat=Strategic+Planning (viewed on 28 Feb. 2004).
Stern, Gary. 1999. Drucker Foundation Self-Assessment Tool; Content: How to Develop a Mission Statement. Reprinted from Drucker Foundation Self-Assessment Tool: Process Guide. http://www.pfdf.org/leaderbooks/sat/mission.html (viewed on 28 Feb. 2004).