By Tara Doyon, Director of Stewardship and Development at St. Paul Catholic Center
Making a Statement: Mission and Vision
Mission and vision statements function as essential guideposts for any organization but can be vital to the success or failure of a small nonprofit or ministry. These foundational documents allow your ministry to execute, evaluate, and grow or adapt your organization’s purpose and direction. When an organization’s mission and vision are clearly defined, they can motivate staff members and projects. When used effectively, these statements help to create organizational clarity and a sense of purpose. However, an organization with an undefined mission and vision tends to jump indiscriminately from activity to activity to sustain its present state.
A mission statement gives the reason your ministry exists: its purpose and objectives, a statement of the present. A vision statement focuses on the ministry’s goals and inspires action; it is a statement of the future.
Many organizations hire or ask a trained professional to help guide them through identifying and creating their mission and vision statements. For small nonprofits or ministries, the process must be conducted with the input of essential staff members, board members, or key stakeholders and/or volunteers in the organization; let’s refer to this group as our “invested group.” Different points of views should be considered when crafting these statements, and often an outsider’s perspective better facilitates the process.
Asking Questions – What? Who? Why? How?
Understanding your ministry’s mission is crucial before you can define its vision. To begin the process of mission identification, you must ask:
- Why do you exist (i.e., to serve what purpose)?
- Who do you serve, and where does this occur?
- How do you serve
A simple way to address the above questions is to reflect and gather answers to such questions as:
- What was your first sense of the value and beliefs of the organization? (What)
- Who do these beliefs and values serve? (Who)
- Why does this organization exist? (Why)
- How are these beliefs and values extended? (How)
Once you have identified the whos, the whats, the whys, and the hows of your organization, by a process of elimination you can usually construct a statement of:
Therefore, we do…
In many industries, the mission statement is a timeless declaration of the organization’s backbone that rarely changes. For small nonprofits or newer ministries, you may need to reevaluate your mission statement every three to five years as the organization shifts.
Some good examples of an organizational mission statement:
Kiva: To connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.
Watts of Love is a global solar lighting nonprofit bringing people the power to raise themselves out of the darkness of poverty.
Catholic Relief Services carries out the commitment of the Bishops of the United States to assist the poor and vulnerable overseas.
In very simple terms, these organizations have articulated what they stand for and how they are marketing that to the public.
Drafting a Statement
Once your organization has a clearly articulated mission statement, you can begin to construct the vision statement. Remember: the mission is where your organization is now, while your vision is where you want to be in the future. Ultimately, your vision will keep your mission on track.
As part of the visioning process, ask your invested group to complete a reflection exercise. Each individual member should identify:
- If money were no object, what are three wishes you would have for your ministry? These can be structural, theoretical, programming, spiritual, etc.
- List three needs (individual ministry or whole) for the sustenance and growth of the organization.
- List three potential threats to your organization.
- List three strengths of your organization.
Determining Organizational Values
Through group discussion of these questions and answers, a picture of your organization’s values and trajectory should emerge. You must clearly identify those values that are critical to the organization and think about the values it will take to make the vision a reality.
These values and expectations can be crafted into a statement. It is not recommended that the statement be composed with the full invested group. Ask someone who is a good writer to collect this information and write a first draft.
Once you have received several versions of this statement, begin to share it as a draft to staff members and volunteers. Gather feedback, understanding that you may receive both positive and negative comments. Continue to rewrite the statement until it feels right. Keep in mind that it may take several versions before the statement is finalized and accepted.
In reference to the previous examples of mission statements, below are the same organization’s accompanying vision statements. Notice how the vision statement inspires action and answers the question to how the mission statement can be achieved.
Kiva: We envision a world where all people hold the power to create opportunity for themselves and others.
Watts of Love: To break the cycle of dependency on costly and dangerous kerosene by empowering individuals with a pathway to economic self-sufficiency through access to solar technology.
Catholic Relief Services: We inspire to connect, to create and to champion lasting change for poor and vulnerable people around the globe.
Remember: both mission and vision the statements should be:
- Clear. Do not be vague. Do not clutter your statements with jargon, flowery words, or meaningless terms.
- Concise. Most mission and vision statements are far too long. These statements are not designed to provide an overview of your organizations history. This isn’t the place to discuss strategy.
- Memorable. The best mission and vision statements are memorable. Think about your invested group; if you asked them to recite your mission and vision from memory, would they get it right? If people can’t repeat it from memory, it’s not strong enough.
- Inspirational. Your statements should motivate and energize people inside and outside of your organization.
Developing effective mission and vision statements for your ministry are two of the most important task your organization will ever undertake. These essential strategic documents will guide almost all other organizational tasks, programs, and funding and promote intentional ministry.
Tara Doyon is Director of Stewardship and Development for St. Paul Catholic Center at the University of Indiana. Tara excels at leading organizations in mission and vision exercises as well as building development programs from scratch.
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