nonprofit development, writing

Make it or break it mission statements: How to write a powerful nonprofit mission statement 

According to Google, a mission statement is “a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual.” Every single grant application or proposal that I have ever encountered asks for your organization’s mission statement, most often as the very first question. In a nonprofit mission statement, you are essentially boiling down the crux of what you do and who you serve into one powerful sentence. Here’s how to write a nonprofit mission statement that funders will love in three easy steps:

1. Summarize WHAT you do
2. Define WHO you serve
3. Hint at WHY it is important

The crux of your organization should be immediately apparent in one clear and concise sentence. Here is an example of my mission statement from a STEM education project that I recently launched:
CareerInSTEM develops the next generation of STEM leaders and innovators through engaging resources and training for students, parents, and educators.

This mission statement combines all three of the above steps. Here’s how:

1. Summarize WHAT you do: engaging resources and training
2. Define WHO you serve: students, parents, and educators
3. Hint at WHY it is important: develops the next generation of STEM leaders and innovators

The trick is to combine all three into a short yet descriptive sentence. When you have a draft of your mission statement ready, ask yourself these questions:
a. Would anyone be able to read this sentence and have a clear idea of what the organization is about?
b. Is this sentence compelling?
c. Would someone want to learn more after reading this?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, go back to the drawing (or writing…) board and keep trying! Once they are all ‘yes’ to you, go out and ask at least five people the same questions. When you encounter a ‘no’, ask for their honest feedback and use it to make your mission statement better. Anyone is fair game – people on the street, subway passengers, friends, family, even via online survey. In fact, strangers are often ideal sounding boards, as they are truly objective and can provide clear insights that people close to you may not be able to provide.

Here are a few examples:

BREAK IT: We are changing lives through education.
MAKE IT: X Nonprofit equips single mothers in New York City with the job-specific skills they need to achieve financial stability.
Tips: Never use pronouns. Do not use words that end in -ing. Do not be vague. For example, ‘education’ can be lots of different things. Specifically state what you offer. Read more simple writing fixes here.

BREAK IT: X Nonprofit provides drug prevention education programs to at-risk youth in Colorado.
MAKE IT: The mission of X Foundation is to provide transformative educational experiences that result in resilient, confident, drug-free youth.
Tips: This break it was close – it states what the organization does and who they serve. But it did not hint at why it is important. This is the factor that really makes or breaks a mission statement.

Using these three steps, you will be well on your way towards crafting a compelling mission statement that funders will love!

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