Please step away from your Mission Statement!

engagement, connection, marketing, fundraising, strategy
Engagement Cycle

We’re going to try out something new–Mini-Mission Makeovers. The purpose of these is to get more out of your Mission Statements.

Let’s talk about those Mission Statements, shall we?

Every nonprofit has one. Most are quite wed to them. Organizations invest hours and hours into both creating these statements and then having everyone memorize them.

Organizations undertake this memorizing of the Mission Statement with a view to staff and board being able to repeat the statement word for word when someone asks what your organization does. It is considered a success when all board members and staff can, in fact, repeat it word for word. Never mind that most people sound like robots when they repeat the Mission Statement. And that the statement itself is usually long, boring, and not very interesting. Never mind that it’s not anything anyone outside the organization would ever repeat. Never mind.

Don’t get me wrong–you should have a mission statement. It’s a very useful tool. But most Mission Statements don’t generally do a good job of succinctly and compellingly communicating what you do and why you do it to people outside of your organization.

Therefore, I beseech you to please step away from your Mission Statement!

Yes, you read that correctly. Stop worrying so much about your Mission Statement and start focusing on coming up with a really good response to the question: “What does your organization do?” that really answers the question “What do you want to be known for?”

Let’s pause on this because it’s important: People don’t generally wander up to you at a bbq and say, “It’s been a while, Harry, remind me what you want to be know for again, will ya?” Nope. People wander up and say, “Reminder me what you do again for work, will ya?” So that’s the question you’ll get. Your job is to use the opportunity to make sure they leave the conversation knowing what you want to be known for so that they can talk about that to others.

By coming up with a concise and compelling statement about what you want to be known for, not only do you make it easy for people to decide if they want to engage with you and your organization, you also make it easy for them to talk about your work with others who may be interested. (Note that a robotic recitation of your Mission Statement is neither concise, nor compelling. It is, therefore, not repeatable.)

Am I talking about your Elevator Pitch? Kind of, but not really. The idea of an Elevator Pitch is kind of weird, when you get right down to it. It implies that someone will go from first hearing about you to writing you a check in short order. #Creepy

Really what you need are a collection of statements that align with each point along the Engagement Cycle (see spiffy graphic above). You want statements that invite questions. Why? Because when someone asks a question, you get to know exactly what interests them about your work. That makes it easy for you to personalize what you tell them, thus quickly and efficiently moving along the Engagement Cycle. Neat, right?!

The toughest statement is always the “Know Statement”. It’s a humdinger. Ideally, it’s 10 words or less. If those 10 words are of interest to the person with whom you’re talking, you might move them along to an “Understand Statement”, whereby you help them understand what you do, why you do it, how you do it, etc. If they still look interested, then and only then, might you invite them to engage with you in some way–visiting the website, coming to an event, whatever.

Coming up with your “Know Statement” is no easy task, I’ll give you that. And that’s why we’re going to start doing the “Mini-Mission Makeovers”! We’ll give you specific tips for how to make-over your Mission Statement (because they are often a handy starting point for creating your “Know Statement”), so it becomes a useful tool for engaging people outside your organization, e.g. donors, supporters, volunteers, etc.

For our first Mini-Mission Makeover, we have Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County.

“We are dedicated to strengthening families and individuals by providing a wide range of social services and programs, including therapy, information and referral, support, education and advocacy.”


  1. Find an alternative to provide: You knew that was coming, didn’t you?! I’ve written about this a lot, so won’t bust out my soapbox in this post. If you aren’t sure why provide is so bad, you can read all about it here.
  2. Get rid of the “to be” verb: Whenever I see “to be” verbs (e.g. is, are, am) in a mission statement, I start by figuring out how to get rid of them. Lots of the time, “to be” verbs make a sentence duller than it needs to be. For instance, rather than saying “We are dedicated to strengthening…”, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County could simply say, “We strengthen…”. Boom.
  3. Ditch the ‘Services Laundry List’ and decide on the one thing for which you really want to be known: This is a tough one, I  know, but if you tell someone your everything, they’ll remember nothing. You want people to remember you and talk about your amazing work to others. Thus, the need to pick one–or at most two– things to highlight from the cornucopia of awesomeness that you do. (If you’re stumped by this, check out the Messaging Toolkit and/or the Organizational Lexicon, both free and available in our DIY section.)

Here’s how implementing the above recommendations might look:

“We strengthen families and individuals through therapy, education and advocacy.”

Now, I haven’t chatted with the folks at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, so I’m not sure what they want to be known for, but you get the idea–fewer words, spunkier verbs and no laundry list.

Want help making over your Mission Statement? Post it on Claxon’s Facebook page and we’ll see what we can do!



Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?