Make Your Mission Useful

Mission statements are essential – every organization needs to have one, but are they effective? According to research, the effectiveness of an organization’s mission statement can only be seen in service user outcomes when all stakeholders – employees, board members, service users, community partners – have a common understanding of:

  1. the purpose of a mission statement,
  2. the content of a mission statement, and
  3. how the mission statement manifests in the daily decisions and actions of the organization and its staff.

The most effective mission statement is one that is developed with input from all stakeholders in a process that allows every person to understand what each word in the mission means to the organization, and how each individual contributes to the mission and carries it out (Keeling, 2013); in this way, everybody has a collective, clear understanding of the mission. This process is not always possible or practical in every organization, especially with the regular addition of new employees. A viable alternative is be a periodic “mission analysis”.

One of the staff-generated goals in a retreat I facilitated for one nonprofit organization included a better understanding of the mission and goals of the organization. Recently, the board had decided to revisit the mission statement, but did not include staff input. In order to empower the staff and develop a common understanding of the mission, we did a mission analysis. After writing out the mission on a big sheet of paper, I divided it into key words and phrases, which the staff then collectively analyzed.

For example, if you wanted to analyze Goodwill’s® mission, you might parse it in the following way and answer the questions about each part:

Goodwill® strives to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by helping people reach their full potential through education, skills training, and the power of work.

Mission Parse Analyzing Questions
Goodwill® strives to enhance Strives how? What does ‘enhance’ mean?
the dignity [of life] What does ‘dignity of life’ look like?
quality [of life] What does ‘quality of life’ look like?
of individuals and families Which individuals and families? What is a family?
by helping people Helping how? Which people?
reach their full potential What is somebody’s ‘full potential’?
through education What education? How does this education help somebody reach their full potential?
skills training What skills training?
and the power of work What is the ‘power of work’? How does it help somebody reach their full potential?

As you can imagine, 10 different people might have 10 different answers to any one of the analyzing questions, which is why it’s important to take the time to discuss and arrive at a common understanding. This is a critical first step to enacting the mission on a daily basis and seeing your organization’s mission working for service users.

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