Your mission is the foundation to everything you do. It’s your north star, your guiding principle, and your roadmap to changing the world. Your nonprofit mission statement is how you communicate that with the world.
As such a critical element of your brand, your mission statement needs to represent your organization’s ethos, but also be informative, succinct, and move your supporter base. To help your organization create a powerful nonprofit mission statement that follows best practices, we’re answering the following questions:
- What do I need to include in my nonprofit mission statement?
- How do I write a nonprofit mission statement?
- What writing style should I use?
- What are examples of strong nonprofit mission statements?
- Do I need to update my existing nonprofit mission statement?
- How do I inform my community that we updated our mission?
Why Your Nonprofit Mission Statement Is So Important
A mission statement is incredibly valuable because it provides clarity on what your nonprofit does. It should provide a clear explanation of what your nonprofit does and should resonate with everyone involved—from the top-level board members to the beneficiaries of your work.
A strong mission statement inspires donors to give, outlines what your nonprofit does, and builds trust in the community that your nonprofit can fulfill its promises. An effective mission statement does all of that in a clear, concise, and cohesive manner with your brand.
How to Know If Your Mission Statement Needs to Be Updated
Experts recommend you re-evaluate your mission statement every 3 years. Use the criteria below to decide if your nonprofit’s mission statement could benefit from an upgrade.
There Has Been a Change In Your Nonprofit’s Scope
Over time, technology, politics, and culture will impact your mission and how you approach it. You might identify a new area of need or a more efficient way to make an impact, but if you pivot your programs and donors don’t understand why, then you risk losing their trust. If your organization changes its scope, then you need to adapt your messaging.
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you’re likely due for a rewrite.
- Do you offer any new programs?
- Have you narrowed down or expanded your mission?
- Have you limited or expanded your service area?
- Are you working with new demographics?
- Have you had any major changes in funding?
- Has your mission pivoted due to a global or local event?
If your nonprofit has made any large-scale changes, your team should sit down and assess whether your mission statement still accurately reflects your work.
You Receive Feedback That Your Mission Statement No Longer Resonates
Soliciting donor feedback is a critical step in a donor retention strategy. In addition to asking how they want to be communicated to and if they are interested in specific program updates, you should ask high level questions to find out how they feel about your work and mission.
For example, if you started as an animal shelter in San Diego, but after years of dedicating a large amount of resources to rescuing and rehabilitating stray dogs from Tijuana, your nonprofit may have inadvertently changed your scope without realizing it. You might still see yourself as an animal shelter, but if 80% of your programmatic impact reports focus on one cohort of service, some of your donors may not feel the same connection to your mission.
Rewriting your mission statement to more accurately represent your work can help you build deeper and lasting connections with supporters because they can see the explicit impact you have on your cause. You are also more likely to attract donors who are dedicated to your cause because they know right away where you focus your work.
How To Write A Nonprofit Mission Statement
Discover Why Your Current and Prospective Donors Want to Give
Once your team has a good grasp on your collective “why,” talk to constituents about how they came to support your cause. If you don’t already have this information, consider conducting a donor survey. Ask about their original motivation to donate, what other causes or nonprofits they support, if they volunteer, and any other questions that can provide insight into their relationship with your cause.
Next, think about what language resonates with them. How did they describe your work or your beneficiaries? What verbs did they use to describe your mission and what you do? Is there any overlap with your mission statement? Or does your mission statement use jargon and unnecessarily complicate your work?
To engage prospects who have not yet given to your nonprofit, take a look at other organizations with similar causes. How do they communicate what they do? Is it more streamlined or more descriptive? Think about how you can differentiate yourself.
Talk To Your Beneficiaries
Talk to those who have been positively impacted by your nonprofit’s work to help your team understand the impact of your work.
How have your programs improved their life? Are there any specific elements of your work they are interested in or do they have ideas on how you can improve? By speaking to the people directly impacted by your work, you can uncover issues with your programs, identify new opportunities, and better understand the challenges they face.
This input can help you measure the success and impact of your programming more objectively. It’s one thing to be able to convince donors why your nonprofit is the best equipped to tackle your cause, but the beneficiaries’ opinions are the best source you have to assess where you succeed the most. Feedback from your beneficiaries will help you determine if the intended impact of your work matches up with reality.
Analyze Your Nonprofit’s Work
The most important questions you should answer in your mission statement are who you serve, how your programs are structured, and your impact on your cause.
Think critically using the guiding questions below to help you most accurately represent your nonprofit in your new mission statement.
Who You Serve
Be explicit about who you serve. The details will vary depending on your organization’s cause, but sharing more specific information about your beneficiaries can help potential supporters connect with your mission.
Your Programming And Services
Next, look at your nonprofit’s programming and service offerings. Think about why your nonprofit offers these things. What makes your offerings the best solution to fulfill your mission?
Do nonprofit organizations with similar missions have similar programs and services? What about your nonprofit work is unique?
Lastly, think about the impact of your work. How does what you do benefit the community? What have you seen as positive results of your nonprofit’s work?
Conversely, what would happen to your community without your nonprofit’s presence?
After answering all the questions above, think through how you’d want to communicate these answers to the public. Write out your answers in as many ways as possible. Be sure to use active voice and descriptive language. If you’re doing this as a team, give everyone 30 minutes to come up with their own lists, and compare notes.
Assemble Your Building Blocks
See what goes well together from your written lists until you find which key phrases work best together. Think about what would best speak to your audience.
Keep all of your lists of answers to the questions above. They could be helpful to find new ways to talk about your mission in your fundraising appeals, grant proposals, and more.
Branding unites everything you do. Think about how you would describe your nonprofit’s brand. The language in the mission statement should feel the same way that the brand feels.
We recommend keeping a list of “brand words.” These are adjectives and verbs that describe your nonprofits work and its impact, align with your nonprofit’s brand, and best speak to your audience.
Things To Check Before Signing Off On Your New Nonprofit Mission Statement
Your mission statement should be clear and concise. Anyone should be able to understand it, not just those with experience in your field, so avoid using jargon.
Your mission statement should be clear enough so that it picks up where your nonprofit’s name leaves off. With the name and the mission, that should tell prospects everything they need to know about your organization.
Your list of brand words should be descriptive adjectives and verbs. Every word you use in your mission statement is an opportunity to tell us something about your nonprofit. Cross-reference your words with a thesaurus.
Take for example, “we do.” Alternatives “we achieve” or “we determine” are far more descriptive. Choosing the word achieve implies that you are consistently solving tangible goals, whereas determine means that you are making decisions through analysis or research.
Remember: every word counts!
You have to make the reader care about your cause when they read your mission statement. Think about what will happen to your constituents if you couldn’t provide your services and tell that story.
With all these tips in mind, look at the following examples for inspiration of what a great mission statement should look like.
Nonprofit Mission Statement Examples
I Support The Girls
“Through an international network of Affiliates, I Support the Girls collects and distributes essential items, including bras, underwear, and menstrual hygiene products, allowing women and folx experiencing homelessness, impoverishment, or distress to stand tall with dignity.”
I Support The Girls’ mission statement explains who they help, what they do, and how they do it. They describe the emotional impact of their mission when describing their goal to allow women and folx to “stand tall with dignity.”
Their statement also answers a question that may come up. Since using the gendered noun “girls” in their organization name, homeless people who identify as trans or nonbinary may wonder if this organization will prevent them from receiving supplies to due to their gender orientation. By including the word folx to their mission statement, I Support The Girls clarifies that their services are trans-inclusive.
Iowa Healthiest State Initiative
“To become the healthiest state in the nation by improving the physical, social and emotional well-being of Iowans.”
Iowa Healthiest State Initiative‘s mission statement answers the question one would ask once reading the nonprofit’s name: what does it mean to be the healthiest state? Improving social and emotional well-being alongside physical well being. Simple, clear, and concise.
“Mikva Challenge develops youth to be empowered, informed, and active citizens who will promote a just and equitable society.”
What stands out about Mikva Challenge is their intentional language in describing their constituents (empowered, informed, active citizens) and their impact—preparing youth to promote a just and equitable society.
Their word choice alludes to their core values. By using future tense in describing their impact, their youth will promote a just and equitable society, they show that they are forward-thinking. We know that Mikva Challenge is working toward long-term impact and creating the future they want to see through their development programs today.
The descriptive language to describe their nonprofit makes it abundantly clear that they are an advocacy organization that focuses on strengthening youth activism.
“To provide sacred spaces to strengthen the minds and bodies of QTPIs – Queer and Trans Pacific Islanders – through community organizing, community care, civic engagement, and cultural stewardship.”
This mission statement explains the relationship between the members of their organization, their programming, and their impact very well. UTOPIA Washington’s use of the phrase sacred spaces gives the impression that they go above and beyond to ensure that all their programming is inclusive and welcoming.
Then, by specifying they strengthen the minds and bodies of QTPIs through their programming, they clarify that their values of civic engagement and community organizing help bring people together, but also strengthen the minds and bodies of their beneficiaries as individuals. Their use of community twice in the mission statement really emphasizes how important the community aspect is to what they do.
This mission statement was written for their entire constituency. This language would really resonate with a QTPI activist looking for an inclusive, welcoming community organizing group, or someone who wants to provide the QTPI community in Washington a sacred space.
Sharing Your New Mission Statement
Once you have a well-written mission statement, then it’s time to share it with the world.
Legal Obligations of a Mission Change
Depending on the reasoning behind your change in mission, you may be required to notify the IRS and any organization that provided you with grants or other large-scale funding according to the charitable trust doctrine.
Getting The Word To Your Audience
Update Your Website
Your mission should be front and center on your nonprofit website and online donation pages. If it’s not already, the launch of a new mission statement is a great reason to redesign your website.
An excellent solution for nonprofits who already have a mission statement as their website’s focal point and those who cannot redesign their website is the use of pop-ups or banners.
This is a website feature that creates a temporary message at either the very top of a webpage (banner), or that occludes your screen until you close it (pop-up). If you go this route, be very selective about which pages you include banners or popups, it can be irritating to a user to see the same pop up on every page of your website.
This example of a popup banner on Mikva Challenge’s website is a great example. It stands out, by being a separate color from the rest of the webpage, but is not invasive to the reader. You can also easily close it by clicking the x.
Also, consider writing a short post to provide more details to your constituents.These easy website updates will spread the word to anyone visiting your website.
Share Via Social Media and Email
Once you make changes to your website and mission statement, ensure your supporters are aware of the updates by promoting through your regular channels of communication.
Here are a few ways to spread the word:
- Change your social media bios to your new mission statement.
- Post an announcement of your new mission statement on social media that links back to your website.
- Depending on your nonprofit’s email strategy, consider sharing the news as a standalone message or in your next newsletter.
Further Your Branding
A great mission statement motivates donors to give, describes what your nonprofit does in a clear, concise and cohesive way, and builds trust in the community that your nonprofit is making a difference.
It also elevates and builds trust in your nonprofit’s brand. But a mission statement is merely one aspect of your organization’s brand. To learn more about how to unify and strengthen your nonprofit’s brand to align with your values, download the guide below.