The Winner of the 2014 #WorstMissionStatement Contest is…

Center for Justice, Mission StatementThe Center for Justice!

Of all the entries, this one really stood out:

“The Center for Justice is a legal advocacy organization that works to empower individuals and provides vigorous oversight and advocacy when community rights need to be defended and community voices need to be heard.”

Before we dig into what could be improved about this statement, let’s talk about what it has going for it:

  • In the land of nonprofit Mission Statements, it’s relatively short. It isn’t a laundry list of absolutely, positively everything they do (although it could be more rigorous…more on that in a minute).
  • It’s not totally vanilla. There are some words with oomph in here—vigorous, defend, etc.

That said, this Mission Statement doesn’t do justice to the work of the Center for Justice.

  • The Reading Ease Score is a mere 3.3. That means the reader can’t understand 96.7% of it. #Drat
  • Even though it’s not a big ol’ long laundry list, it’s still trying to do too much. Your Mission Statement should concisely state what you do (and sometimes, space permitting, how you do it). By my count, there are five examples of what they do: 1) empower individuals, 2) provide oversight, 3) provide advocacy, 4) defend community rights, and 5) allow community voices to be heard. Are all these created equal? Usually the answer is ‘no’. Are some more important than others? Usually the answer is ‘yes’.
  • The statement hedges. Rather than “empowering individuals” they “work to empower individuals”. The addition of qualifiers such as work, trying, endeavoring, etc is very common in nonprofit Mission Statements. They get added because you don’t want to overstate your influence, i.e. the Center isn’t single-handedly responsible for empowering the individuals it serves. This is true and yet I still recommend you ditch the qualifiers.

Folks will know you’re not completely and utterly responsible for every single aspect of the empowerment (or oversight or advocacy, etc). We add qualifiers because we worry we’ll find ourselves at a BBQ with someone waggling a drumstick at us and saying, “Oh yeah? How is it that you do all that empowering?” That seems scary but it’s actually a good thing! Because question are good, right? Right. So no more qualifiers.

I don’t love the word ‘empowerment’ because it’s overused, but I appreciate and understand that for some groups—and often for those working in the field of legal advocacy—it’s an important word. Assuming that’s the case for the Center for Justice and we leave ‘empowerment’ in their statement, they might end up with something like this:

“The Center for Justice empowers individuals and communities through legal defense and advocacy.”

Other options with a significantly higher readability score include:

“The Center for Justice uses the law to protect individual and community rights.”

“The Center for Justice uses the law to defend individual and community rights.”

Remember: The job of your Mission Statement is to communicate your essence, not your everything. If someone is interested in your essence, there will be plenty of time to tell them everything else there is to know about you and your wonderful work.

Thank you again to all the organizations who were brave enough to submit their Mission Statements for the Worst Mission Statement competition. We hope some of these suggestions will help you develop a Mission Statement that’s as great as the work you do!

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?