Bust a Move with a Sexy Mission Statement


Just. So. Good. That’s what I have to say about #nonprofitpickuplines, the hashtag that Vu Le introduced us to some years ago and (blessedly) revived for Valentine’s Day 2017.

Thanks to #nonprofitpickuplines, I spent V Day toggling between the clever goodness abounding in my Twitter stream and prepping for a webinar I was going to do on mission statement make-overs (more on that in a sec).

Then a sad, sad thought occurred to me: if nonprofit pickup lines really were that hilarious, we’d likely have way more people getting in on the philanthropy action.

But nonprofits don’t use clever pick up lines to get the convo started, do they? Nooooooo. Instead, they use their mission statements. Or some version of their mission statement that EDs, board members, program folks, fundraisers, etc can actually remember and, therefore, blurt out when the long anticipated moment arrives when someone (maybe a potential donor….deep breaths) finally asks you, “So, what does your organization do?”

Your response needs to be titillating. You’ve got seven precious, fleeting seconds to woo them. To snag them. To hook them. To get them to lean in and say, “Tell me more,” in a way that clearly indicates they will become a major donor. Clearly.

Individual giving as a percent of GDP has been stuck since smoking while making dinner was considered appropriate. Clearly, our mission statement pick-up lines aren’t working.

Really, you’ve got two options:

  1. Keep using that drab mission statement as your go-to pick-up line, thus leaving money and support on the cocktail table.
  2. Come up with a sexier mission statement.

By sexy, I mean one that:

  1. Is clear, concise, and repeatable.
  2. Has a superhero verb.
  3. Is free of jargon.
  4. Clearly communicates what you do and for whom.
  5. Gets people to ask questions.

If you want a sexy, more remarkable, more lean-in inspiring mission statement, listen to the webinar I did yesterday. (Tuning in with a glass of wine or whiskey in hand and candles burning seems only appropriate. But no mood music cuz then you can’t hear the webinar.)



Readability Stats: Ease: 63.2, Grade: 7.3


Lesson 2: What do you want to be known for?

This is part of a series introducing you to Claxon University, where nonprofits can learn everything I know for $949.

Claxon University’s first course is Words on a Mission. Each of the twelve lessons in the course asks a fundamental question a nonprofit needs to answer in order to develop high-impact messaging. In each post in this series, I’ll share what the question is, along with a snippet from the video lecture.

Lesson 2: What do you want to be known for?

Lesson 2: Know Statement from Claxon University on Vimeo.

Post Readability Stats: Reading Ease 66.8, Grade Level 8.3.

Are you short-changing your mission?

ClaxonU_LogoClass is in session.

(Sort of. Ish.)

More accurately, class could be in session if you decided to take Claxon University’s on-line course, Words on a Mission.

Now, why would you–a very busy person–want to take this course? Why would you–someone with pulenty on your plate already–heap on a serving of learning?

Because, truth be told, if your words aren’t making a difference, you’re short-changing your mission.

For years, I’ve been beseeching you to pay more attention to the 15,000 words you go through in a day. This isn’t because I’m a word nerd (although I admittedly am). It’s because you likely don’t have a gazillion dollars to spend on getting the word out about your mission. And, with 50% of nonprofit mission statements being technically incomprehensible, your mission statement likely isn’t doing you any favors in the engagement department either.

If you’re serious about your mission, you need to get serious about how you talk about it.

You really do.

With Claxon University, I’m making it as easy, fun and affordable as possible to craft compelling messaging and create a mission statement you adore.

Is your mission statement a no-go zone? Not a problem. There are so  many other ways to change up your words so you can change the world. Really. There are so many. And I’d love for you to know every single one because then you can engage more people, more deeply in your work. And how awesome would that be?!

So, please, stop short-changing your mission. It’s too awesome and you’re too awesome for that. Check out Claxon University. Take the course. Let’s make some amazing things happen.


Why you shouldn’t have priorities

I focus on what mattersDid you know that the word ‘priority’ was part of the English language for 500 years before it became pluralized? 500 years!

Why should you care about this little linguistic tidbit? Because it offers insight into why your mission statement may be–how shall we say?–sub-awesome.

You see, it wasn’t until 1940s that we started having priorities. Plural. That’s when the trouble started.

We got into the (nasty) habit of believing that all tasks were created equal and that all of them had to get done. We no longer had a priority, i.e. a clear idea of the “thing that was most important”. We started having priorities, i.e. things that were all important.

If everything is equally important, how can you prioritize? How can you focus? How can you convey the one thing that is most important about your organization? You can’t!

And that, I’m pretty darn sure, is contributing to the Laundry List approach to creating Mission Statements, which is leading to ~50% of nonprofits having Mission Statements that are technically incomprehensible.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (because it warrants repetition)–if you tell someone your everything, they will remember nothing.

Listen to this week’s podcast and learn more about the power of having a priority. One.  Singular. Priority.

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!

A Super Easy Way for Nonprofits to Replicate the #IceBucketChallenge

ALS Association, #IceBucketChallengeThe success of the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge is a sight to behold. Everyone from Bill Gates (who has a much better sense of humor than he is given credit for) to Matt Damon (who uses toilet water cuz he’s the co-founder of water.org and a marketing genius) is getting in on the action. It has generated tons of buzz and so far raised $94 million. #Yowza

It’s obvious that part of what made the #IceBucketChallenge a success is its exceptionally high fun factor and that it was easy, i.e. people were instantly engaged. Who wouldn’t want to see Laura pour a bucket of ice cold water all over W, after all?!

The ALS Association are making it super easy for people to get in on the fun. So long as you have water, ice, a bucket-like container and a way to take a video, you’re set.

Put another way:

Fun + Easy = Successful Engagement

If we know this combo works, why oh why are nonprofits using boring, convoluted language to talk about their work? Doesn’t make sense.

Yes, I’m going to harsh on Mission Statements. Again. Remember this list of Mission Statements that were un-fun and technically incomprehensible? Mm-hm.  That list. The one that sparked our Worst Mission Statement contest.

But it’s not just nonprofit Mission Statements that make people nod off. We did a survey of 384 nonprofit websites and learned that, of the 250,000 words in the English language, nonprofits are only using about 1,000. Gimme a B-O-R-I-N-G.

Totally fine to try your hand at creating something as successful as the #IceBucketChallenge, but seeing if you can use language that’s fun and easy-to-understand would be a worthy challenge as well!

Want to win prizes for spunking up your Mission Statement? Enter to win our Worst Mission Statement contest by 8/31!

Enter to win the ‘Worst Nonprofit Mission Statement Contest’

Mission Statements, Worst Mission Statement, Nonprofit Mission StatementI’ve been spending lots of time thinking about Mission Statements because of our Mini-Mission Makeover series. Turns out there’s nothing mini about how bad most Nonprofit Mission Statements are. To wit, this submission from Leslie Hall of the Michigan Rural EMS Network:

MiREMS is a diverse network representing EMS interest in Michigan developing partnerships with providers, to identify challenges, strategies, and opportunities to improve patient outcomes for all Michigan residents.”

Leslie also wrote, “If you have a Worst Mission Statement Contest, I believe I will be a strong contender!” With all due respect, Leslie, I couldn’t agree more.

Here we are, all about mission and yet the statements that are meant to reflect that mission are incomprehensible combos of meaningless words. This must stop. Mushy, incomprehensible Mission Statements drive people away, rather than bringing them in. And that’s no good. Let’s do a Failure Bow and move on.

We’re taking Leslie’s suggestion and hosting the Worst Nonprofit Mission Statement Contest. We need to get all this ridiculousness out of our systems, so we can move on to having Marvelous Mission Statements  that clearly and compellingly communicate what we do so that people can quickly and easily decide if they want to get involved.

Here’s how the contest will work:

  • By August 31, you enter to win by posting your organization’s Mission Statement on Claxon’s Facebook page.
  • In September, we will announce the three finalists in the Claxonette. (If you don’t already subscribe to the Claxonette, now’d be a good time to get yourself signed up.)
  • You will get to vote on which statement you think is the worst.
  • The Mission Statement with the most votes wins a copy of Pitchfalls and a Very Special Secret Gift!

Once we have all these terrible Mission Statements behind us, we’ll figure out how to get you a marvelous one, okay? Okay. Now hop to it and submit your statement!

Mini-Mission Makeover: Association for Supportive Child Care

I recently did a follow-up webinar to a keynote I gave at the Alliance for Arizona Nonprofits’ Annual Membership Meeting. I invited participants to send in their response to the question “What do you do?”, so we could chat about them.

The Association for Supportive Child Care sent in the following sentence: “We work to enhance the quality of care for children across Arizona.”

This is very similar to their Mission Statement, which is “to enhance the quality of care for children across Arizona.” It’s great that their Mission Statement is so short and sweet, isn’t it? So rare and wonderful!

My advice–stick with that short n’ sweet Mission Statement of theirs. They *almost* stick with it but commit a common messaging mistake–they use a qualifier. In their case, the qualifier is “work to…” Other examples of qualifiers include: striving, endeavoring, and trying.

Qualifiers function as little, tiny apologies. They make your work seem like it has less impact, less oomph, than it really does. They don’t enhance your messaging. It makes it sound like you’re kinda, sorta doing the thing you’re referencing, but you’re not all in. People want to support organizations that are all in for whatever they’re doing. Sitting on the fence isn’t inspiring. Best to eliminate qualifiers.

For the Association for Supportive Child Care, they could simply say, “We enhance the quality of care for children across Arizona.” Simple. It begs the question, “How do you enhance the quality of care?” And remember–when it comes to using language to engage people in your work, questions are good!

? = : )



Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?