Mission Statements Set the Foundation for Future Relevance

Mission statements are typically straightforward expressions of an organization’s identity and purpose. While mission statements can be very stable, they are not timeless.

Your mission statement is your organization’s elevator speech.  It sums up your organization for anyone who needs to understand who you are, what you do, for whom and why.  Your words don’t have to be catchy; they just have to provide a good reason for your continued existence.

When your organization’s vision or your environment changes in important ways, you may need to revisit your mission statement to see if it still makes sense.  If the problem you exist to solve has changed or needs to be reframed, you should update your mission statement. 

More associations are also finding yesterday’s descriptions of their members no longer fit their changing mix of members and customers.  Association leaders are quick to recognize when their name no longer makes sense, yet slower to recognize when their mission statement doesn’t accurately describe who they now want to serve. Updating the mission statement might be a less sensitive and logical step toward making that name change.   

Once you open up your mission statement for needed revision, you can tidy up any phrases that can make you sound less contemporary and strategic than you want to be. Here are a few dos and don’ts for your update:

  • Don’t waste words stating what type of organization you are.  There’s no need to explain you are a membership organization or a 501(c)6 or (c)3. Leave that ho-hum stuff in your articles of incorporation and bylaws.
  • Don’t try to list everyone you serve or everything you do.  Simply use the broadest and most inclusive term to describe who you serve. And be very careful how much detail you provide about how you work to fulfill your purpose. Focus on your priority strategies or methods like education, advocacy or community.  Better yet, use verbs.
  • Do be modest about your place in the world. If you have bold aspirations, put those in your vision and leave adjectives like “leading” or “primary” organization out of the mission statement.  
  • Do stress what differentiates you. If you work at the global, national or local level, say so. If you focus on a specific outcome, claim it. If your power comes from your relationships, explain why.  If you have a defining value, express it.
  • Do say something that members, stakeholders and the public can hold you accountable for delivering. Tell people what you are promising to do so they can judge your results.   

A mission statement is a solid foundation from which you can dream--your vision-- and set strategic direction-- your goals, objectives and strategies. When change rocks that solid foundation, updating your mission statement can clarify your organization’s continued relevance and give everyone a renewed sense of purpose.