Friday, February 21, 2014

Do you kill souls or touch hearts with your mission?

You know the conference room. An urn of percolating coffee. Styrofoam cups. Cherry pastries from Panera. Bottled water. Cell phones vibrating. White boards. Flip charts. Permanent marker smell. Org charts. Small groups. Perky facilitators…

This is the time of year for your strategic planning retreat (or advance). And the first order of business is ALWAYS a review of your mission statement.

Here’s the problem. Most nonprofits articulate their mission in terms of organizational success or a comprehensive list of programs.
  • “Our mission is to be the provider of choice in blah, blah, blah services.”

  • “We provide yada, dada, and bada programs to disadvantaged youth in our community.”
  • "We work to enhance the quality of life in Nearlyperfect County by offering the best arts education and performance opportunities.

Do these mission statements look familiar to you? Did you just spend half of your Saturday duking it out in an epic wordsmith battle with a realtor, a banker, an attorney, and a grade school teacher?
I’ve got to be honest with you.These mission statements kill my soul. 

If I’m going to give away my money to your nonprofit, or if I’m going to spend 40+ hours a week working for your organization, or if I’m going to volunteer to be away from my family in service of your mission, you’d better set my heart on fire.

The good news is that there are two simple questions that can focus these discussions to produce a concise mission statement with heart, soul, and legs that generate revenue.

The whole purpose of your organization is to change somebody’s life. You make people go from sad to happy. From hungry to full. From delayed to advanced. From depressed to inspired. From uninformed to data-driven. From addicted to clean. From sick to healthy. From damned to redeemed. And so on and so on ad infinitum.

Your mission statement ought to reflect that, and anyone who represents your organization—from your board members to your janitorial staff to your weekly volunteers—ought to know exactly whose lives they are changing and what the specific transformation is.

These are my simple questions when I facilitate board retreats.

  • Who are your primary beneficiaries (clients, consumers, participants—whatever you call the important people you are serving)?
  • What specific, positive transformations or changes occur in your primary beneficiaries because of the programs and services you provide?

Your mission is simple. Your mission is to create those specific, positive transformations in your beneficiaries. That's what inspires. That's what is important. It should feel so profound that everyone who touches your organization from staff to board to fundraisers and donors understands that it is a privilege to serve.

Your mission is most definitely not about offering programs and services (those can and should change according to the times, circumstances and opportunities.) 

Your mission is about changing peoples’ lives. Go set some hearts on fire!

I'll share some examples in a future post! In the meantime, if you have a mission with heart that you want to share with the world, leave a comment below!

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