Mission statements are important. Organizations use them to declare to the world how their work matters. They are the North Star for employees, guiding their efforts toward supporting organizational priorities. And mission statements are important to evaluators, because evaluation methods are ultimately designed to assess an organization’s value. Having those values explicitly stated is very helpful.
Yet most of us would rather clean out the office refrigerator than participate in a mission-writing process. Now imagine involving 30 people in the writing process. Make that the refrigerator and the microwave, right?
That’s why I am so enthusiastic about the Nonprofit Hub’s document A Step-By-Step Exercise for Creating a Mission Statement, which the authors promise is a tool “for those who want to skip the nitpicking, word choice arguments or needing to create the elusive ‘perfect mission statement.’”
I won’t go into details about how their process works, because the guide lays it out elegantly and concisely. You can read through the process in five minutes, it is so succinct. I’ll just tell you what I like most:
- The exercise reportedly takes 1-2 hours, even though you are engaging up to 30 stakeholders in the process.
- Stories comprise the foundation of the mission statement: people start by sharing stories about the organization’s best work.
- The individuals do group qualitative analysis on the stories to begin to understand the organization’s cause, activities, and impact.
- Small groups draft mission statements, with instruction to write short, simple sentences. In fact, 10- word sentences are held up as an ideal. The small groups share back with the large group, where big ideas are identified and discussed.
- The actual final wording is assigned to a small task force to create after the meeting, which prevents wordsmithing from dampening the momentum (and the mood).
- In the end, everyone understands and endorses the mission statement because they helped develop it.
This exercise has potential that reaches beyond development of mission statements. It would be a great exercise for advisory groups to contribute their ideas about future activities. Their advice will be based on your organization’s past successes. The stories generated are data that can be analyzed for organizational impact. If you are familiar with Appreciative Inquiry, you’ll recognize the AI influence in this exercise.
The group qualitative analysis process, alone, could be adapted to other situations (see steps 1 and 2). For example, a small project team could use the process to analyze stories from interviews, focus groups, or even written comments to open-ended survey questions.
Even if mission statements are not on your horizon, check out the Nonprofit Hub’s document. There might be something you can adapt for future planning and evaluation projects.