Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
Writing a mission statement is an important step for your ministry or business, whether you are a large organization or sole proprietor or freelancer.
When it’s clear and concise, your statement becomes a rallying cry for your staff and stakeholders (“This is what we wake up each day to do!”) And when your mission statement is targeted and focused, you can use it as a yardstick for making programming and funding decisions (“This proposed project doesn’t contribute to our mission, so we shouldn’t pursue it at this time.”)
But here’s the problem: it can be hard to know where to begin with writing a mission statement.
Maybe you need to write one and have been putting it off. Or maybe you’ve got one but are uncertain whether or not the statement is “what it’s supposed to be.”
There’s all kinds of advice out there for writing a mission statement. And much of it – to be honest – is good. How should you sift through it all so you can get going?
Most of what you read starts with defining what a mission statement is. And you’ll get plenty of answers, such as …
My definition: a mission statement defines what you wake up each day to do.
Confession: I love all of these definitions and theories and intangibles, but I want practical help. I want to know how to write a mission statement for my organization or small biz without it taking months. And I want the statement to be clear and simple so that my team can remember it and use it as a rallying cry.
That’s why I put together this simple guide for writing a mission statement. And your first step is to answer a few questions.
Identify your target audience. Notice that your mission statement should identify a group of people … not merely address a kind of activity you stay busy doing. That’s because ministry and business is not about activities, but about people.
Your target population has a need or problem. You meet that need or solve that problem in the activities you undertake. What are those activities?
How is your target population different as a result of your activities? This little piece is key to a good mission statement because it demonstrates movement. You’re not simply undertaking activity just to be busy. You’re conducting your activities so that a specific group of people is transformed in one capacity or another.
Make sure your mission statement explains the change, outcome, or value you achieve. In other words, the difference you make.
You can ask this question another way – with “Why?” But be careful. Don’t answer “Why” with what your activities do for you. Answer by explaining what your activities do for your target population. And make sure the answer to this last question shows concrete results. For instance, “raising awareness” or “changing attitudes” can be vital outcomes of your work, but those two answers don’t demonstrate tangible results.
Some gurus advise including a “How” question as you write your mission statement. That is, describe the methods you use in helping your target population become transformed. However, I think “How” questions are best reserved for a “How We Work” section in your identity content. Answering “How” with your mission statement can also add quite a few words to its length.
The only exception is if your activities are distinctly focused on using a particular kind of media or methods that are indistinguishable from what you do.
Now that you’ve answered the three key questions, you can use this template for writing a mission statement.
[what you do: a verb] for [who you serve: people group] so that [the difference you make].
Yes, you may need to move the word order around. But the gist of your statement will include answer to your three questions.
Here are some mission statement examples that follow this template.
Yes - if you’ve done a lot of the hard work to identify who you serve, what you wake up each day to do, and what outcomes you achieve doing it.
No – if you’re still working through all of that.
Length is another point on which the mission statement gurus differ. If you do a bit of poking around you’ll discover word count recommendations ranging from one sentence to 200 words.
I have come to believe that shorter is better.
Here’s why: a concise mission statement provides clarity for you and avoids confusion for your readers. Plus, if your statement is short then your entire team can memorize and embrace it easily. But you needn’t ditch all your extra content for your mission statement. Save it and pop it over in your identity content.
"No more than eight words.” That’s Mulago Foundation Director Kevin Starr’s recommendation and I like it. A brief mission statement gets to the point and doesn’t waste anyone’s time. If you get your mission honed down to eight words, then you are extremely clear about what you’re trying to accomplish and can quickly determine from your outcomes if you’re having impact on your target population from the activities you undertake.
Which gives you lots of extra time to continue to accomplish what your mission statement says you want to do.
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