THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN ORGANIZATION’S MISSION STATEMENT
The mission and culture of an organization defines its character and personality. They embody what an organization is all about. These concepts shelter and nurture its reason for existence.
So, what is an organization’s mission? What is its character or culture? Do these things develop by themselves? What role does a Board play in the development and preservation of mission and culture?
The mission of an organization, properly understood, becomes its “religion”. It constitutes its passion for creation, existence, and prospective operation. Effectively, mission is a not-for-profit organization’s foundation and purpose. It defines direction and gives each organization meaning and value. It provides motivation for its life.
The pursuit of mission underlies the motivation of a constituency’s embrace. It causes individuals to volunteer their time, talents and financial support in order to approach the achievement of its vision.
Each organization has a mission, stated or implied. The key to its effectiveness lies in its commonality of understanding and embrace. This is best achieved through the articulation of a well thought-out statement of mission. But, although mission is all-important to each and every organization, its definition and clarity may not always be well understood and communicated.
Each organization attempts to define its mission coincident with its organization. Mission becomes a part of its charter and is communicated in its articles of organization as well as to the Internal Revenue Service in its application for tax exemption.
However, it’s possible that mission, once articulated, can become obscured or diffused. An organization, once created, tends to seek survival and continuance, much like living organisms. And, although an organization may be created for a worthy charitable or civic minded purpose, those involved in its operations tend to become dependent upon the organization either for personal material welfare or for psychological satisfaction. Vision can be sacrificed in the interests of shorter-term pursuits and personal objectives.
An organization’s Board can help maintain focus on organizational purpose and reason for existence. It should not allow issues of organizational continuance, survival or competitive dominance overtake mission as its primary objective.
Think about this for a moment. The implication of this statement is that mission is more important than survival. It is more important than an organization’s ability to continue. It is also more important than an organization becoming the biggest or most dominant player in its industry. Do you agree? You probably only agree if you also agree that mission is an organization’s reason for existence.
Greater Good and Cost
There are two fundamental features to mission that must be understood. First, mission should be an effort to accomplish something worthwhile. Second, that accomplishment should be capable of being made at a cost that is less than the value of its accomplishment.
It is easy and common for organizations to express their mission in terms of functional efforts or programs. For example, an organization might be created in order to, in the words of its founders, provide the opportunity to young boys to play competitive baseball. That sounds great on the surface. In fact however, it may be too shallow a mission. You should ask yourself if that is the fundamental reason behind the organization. Consider that the game of boys’ baseball is simply a program that in and of itself is neither good nor bad. Rather, it is simply the vehicle or program through which the organization accomplishes a higher level of good. That higher level of good might better be stated as enhancing young boys’ development of physical health, social character and competitive nature. Baseball then, comprises only the chosen vehicle to accomplish this higher level of good. The development of boys’ health, character and competitive nature become the real mission behind a baseball league.
Based upon this higher level of purpose, some boys might not be able to participate to the extent that others will. For example, those boys who don’t show sufficient initiative to participate in practice or who tend to cheat or who tend to disrespect coaches and players might be restricted from playing, in the interest of achieving the higher purpose. If there were not this higher purpose, then rules designed to regulate league play would be created in abstract, only so that competitive games could be played. Practice, respect and fair play would have no reason for incorporation into the rules.
The point is that mission should always maintain a focus on accomplishing something good. Any programs that are developed from that fundamental vision become strategic in nature rather than purpose defining.
Second, the accomplishment should be worth the cost involved in funding it, either in the form of money or personal effort. In the baseball example, if the cost to carry on a baseball league becomes greater than the benefit derived from its operation, then the program should be capable of abandonment.
Often participants or some other constituency make the determination to continue or discontinue an operation by what costs they are willing to bear in order to continue it. However sometimes, constituencies contribute to programs outside the context of appropriate judgment of the program’s effectiveness or overall good. And sometimes, contributors simply don’t know how effectively an organization carries out its mission. They simply contribute due to a sense of loyalty or feelings of wanting to make a difference, but without understanding the beneficial difference a program does or does not make. They simply trust that, due to its name, reputation, or engagement of respected leaders, it makes a beneficial impact worthy of the cost.
Often, charitable organizations hire professionals in order to support or participate in their program. For these persons, jobs become the reason that staff seek to continue the organization’s efforts.
If sponsors and participants are not willing or unable to contribute sufficient funds to make the program break even, then the program should be abandoned in favor of another vehicle for the proper development of young boys. A Board’s responsibility to discontinue or change direction for a program for economic insufficiency should be made expeditiously, as soon as it becomes clear that its constituency will not support it.
However, Boards should also remain aware of the efficacy of their organization’s programs through their own monitoring of events and outcomes. When efficacy can no longer be demonstrated, courage is required in order to either resurrect effectiveness or discontinue operations. Without market forces to force this decision upon a Board, this becomes a difficult responsibility to fulfill.
In short, an organization’s mission should be results oriented. Results should be capable of being evaluated for their worth. When costs of accomplishing a worthwhile purpose exceed the benefits, then either the vehicle for accomplishing the mission, or the altruistic purpose itself should be abandoned or changed.
Crafting the Mission Statement
One way that an organization can help maintain appropriate focus on mission is to involve its key members in the development and articulation of a mission statement. A mission statement articulates what an organization does, the population that it serves, how it intends to achieve its vision, and the values underlying its purpose of accomplishment.
Although an organization’s charter normally defines its mission, it doesn’t always adequately pull it off the first time. A single founder or a small group of individuals involved in an organization’s establishment usually assembles the initially articulated mission. Often, however, organizations find it useful to revisit the originally articulated mission and help refine it.
A mission statement, if properly articulated and positioned, should be capable of being easily communicated and understood throughout an organization. Therefore, it can be and should be used to communicate the tone of an organization, under which all actions and strategic directions are subordinate.
A mission statement should ideally be short enough to be easily verbalized and commonly understood by everyone. This will generally be accomplished when everyone can identify with it and adopt it as his or her own purpose of association with the organization. The quality of a mission statement, therefore, will lie in its understanding and embrace by its leaders, staff and constituency.
The way to properly articulate an organization’s mission involves a forced discipline to concisely state what the organization’s overall vision of world betterment is all about. A good mission statement can be broken down into five component expressions. These include:
* Results Vision,
* Target Beneficiary,
* Functional Scope, and
* Guiding Principles or Values.
The Results Vision articulates an organization’s underlying desire to change the world for the better. The Target Beneficiary identifies the general population that the organization intends to serve. The description of function defines, in broad practical terms, the products or services the organization intends to provide. Functional scope addresses the breadth of effort or overall strategy for carrying out its function. Guiding principles describe the moral compass that underpins the Results Mission and reinforces its ethics behind the Mission.
First, a properly structured mission statement begins with the name of the organization. Anything that might precede the name becomes an unnecessary drum roll. If you begin with, “The mission of [ABC Organization is to . . .]”, you immediately dilute the impact of what you want to communicate and you unnecessarily lengthen the message. Cut that out. Don’t go there.
You should follow the organization’s name with an action verb that connotes the overall thematic result for which the organization exists. Just say how the organization will change the world in its own special way. Qualifiers such as “seeks to” dilute the message. So, it should not say, “[ABC Organization] seeks to improve the lives of refugees . . . .” Rather, it should say something like, “[ABC Organization] improves the lives of refugees . . . .” The mission of an organization should always be more than an attempt to improve something; it should be the improvement, itself.
Next, a properly stated mission will identify the target beneficiary to the organization’s function. If the organization has a membership, then the organization will need to decide whether it exists for the benefit of this membership, or whether it provides a vehicle for the members to provide benefit to another target constituency. So, figure out whom the organization is intended to serve and include that constituency in the statement of mission.
Once mission developers have figured all this out and put it on paper, they need to provide a broad statement of function. The temptation here is to delineate a list of programs that the organization wants to provide. However, thought should be directed more towards a description of the industry within which the organization functions. It could be a member services organization, it could be a health services organization, it could be a counseling services provider, or it could be any of an endless litany of product or service providers. If this portion of the mission statement gets beyond one or two verbs, it gets too much into strategy, thereby watering down an otherwise understandable mission. Functional strategy can easily change, but the basic mission should not. So, if the temptation to include a list of functional programs in the mission statement prevails, the mission designers might just consider creating a separate bucket of such ideas that they label “Strategic Design”. Thereby, if they simply cannot help but enumerate a laundry list, they still have a place to put them. But, once they’ve put them into a Strategic Design bucket, then their task will involve summarizing the organization’s functions into a one or two verb descriptor that generally describes in what industry the organization competes.
Consider the following mission statement examples:
A Christian Retirement Community
Name of Organization:
Enriches the quality and dignity of life
For Seniors over 55 in the Denver Area
By providing retirement life care services
That fulfill a continuum of sustenance needs associated with aging
That reflects Christian love, respect and compassion corporately and from each individual service provider.
A Board of Realtors
Name of Organization:
Enhances professionalism of
Realtors in the Greater Denver area
By enhancing and communicating high standards of real estate salesmanship
Through professional development and market place cultivation
That provides homebuyers and sellers the assurance of appropriate realtor competence and high ethical conduct.
A Young Boys Baseball League
Name of Organization:
Develops the physical health, social character and competitive nature of
Boys aged eight to fifteen in the Greater Denver area
By providing a competitive baseball opportunity
That utilizes coaches, umpires, uniforms and regulation equipment, and
That emphasizes disciplined practice, respect for fellow participants, and recognition for personal and team achievement.
Many organizations tend to develop long and descriptive mission statements. Many begin their mission statement with the words, “[ABC Organization]’s mission is to . . . .” Many list multiple functions or programs that delineate a well thought-out scope of services or laundry list of purposes. But many of these mission statements fail to connect with either the organization’s advocates or its constituencies because they become difficult to capsulate into a cogent thought. It really shouldn’t be that difficult to communicate. Furthermore, the more detailed a statement of mission becomes, the more diffused its focus becomes. Effectively, they become statements of strategic methods for accomplishing what should have been articulated as its guiding focus in the first place. The key lies in distinguishing purpose and strategy. The mission statement should focus on and restrict itself to purpose, leaving strategy and program articulation to strategic planning.
John R Haeck, CPA
JR Haeck Professional Corporation