I randomly checked out some nonprofit mission statements yesterday. I was going to check a few more, but… YAWN… I fell asleep.
I’m not kidding.
I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but I found statements like:
Provide professional and volunteer services for the purposes of developing, restoring, and maintaining the competency of …
Provision of preventive, educational, therapeutic and supportive services emphasizing inter-generational ties and community responsibility…
We are committed to empowering…
To create a challenging learning environment that encourages high expectations for success through development-appropriate instruction…
To provide healthcare services in a fiscally responsible manner which contribute to the physical, psychological, social and spiritual well being of the patients…
To lead all people from all backgrounds to real transformation.
WAKE UP! What’s wrong with this picture? Very few nonprofits actually have boring missions. So why do we persist in making them so mind numbing?
And I’m not just talking just about the official jargon-filled written statement you’ve got on your website or pasted into your annual report or 990. These prosaic statements have a way of bleeding into all your communications.
Have you ever written, or received, a thank you letter that looked like this:
On behalf of the board, thank you for your gift. Because of the support of people like you we’ll continue to provide preventive, educational, therapeutic and supportive services emphasizing intergenerational ties and community responsibility. Because you care, we’ll be able to restore and maintain the competency of people in need and lead people from all backgrounds to real transformation. And we’ll continue to do so in a fiscally responsible manner which contributes to the physical, psychological, social and spiritual well being of all we serve. Thank you for joining us in our commitment to empower.
Say what? What exactly did my gift accomplish? And who are you again? ZZzzzzzzz…..
And what about the impact these generic statements have on your other online communications? Time and again when I try to persuade folks to become more active storytellers using social media I’m told variations on:
- “It’s hard to convey what we do.”
- “We don’t have any compelling visuals.”
- “We can’t describe what we do in 140 characters.”
Stop overthinking. Stop overwriting. You’re trying to be all things to all people. You’re trying to tell me absolutely everything about you before you’ve even got my attention. OMG! Would you do that on a first date? I hope not, because you probably wouldn’t get a second one.
Everybody can be interesting. The first step is to stop looking into a mirror and start looking into the eyes of your donor. Put yourself in their shoes. What might excite them? How might they distinguish you from everyone else?
Donors really care about what they can accomplish through you. They don’t care so much how you get there. Let your internal operations stay internal.
We carry out this mission through research, community services, education, and advocacy to improve the health of babies.
We save babies’ lives by preventing premature birth.
See the difference?
Intrigue people enough that they want to ask you how you do it. A good place to begin is by inspiring yourself. What excites you about your organization’s accomplishments?
Here are some really good ‘raison d’être’ mission statements from the corporate world. Notice how none of them talk about how they achieve their results?
- Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
- Wal-Mart: To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same things as rich people.
- Amazon: To be the most customer-centric company in the world, where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online.
- Ebay: Provide a global trading platform where practically anyone can trade practically anything.
- Mary Kay Cosmetics: To give unlimited opportunity to women.
- The Star Ship Enterprise: To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Okay, so the last one’s not a real company. But it’s pretty thrilling.
Stop boring your donors with run-of-the-mill, jargon-filled, unmemorable communications that tell them squat. You can do better. This isn’t about spin. It’s simply about why you exist. Who are you at your core?
If you feel you need a bit of help to think clearly about your vision, mission and values you may want to get my 7 Clairification Keys to Unlock Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising Potential. It includes a slew of worksheets and exercises to help you show donor-investors what’s in it for them, the value you offer, and why it’s better than what anyone else is offering. If you don’t find it helpful, you can always tell me. I’m pretty nice about these things. To your success!
Photo: Flickr, Grevel
The original mission of Walt Disney Productions: “To make people happy.” Missions don’t get much better than that.
Thanks Ken. Disney definitely has it going on in this regard, hands down. It’s the “happiest place on earth” — and we ALL know it! Thanks for the contribution.
So true, Claire. Many nonprofits speak in jargon or governmentese. They need to develop more of a customer orientation in words and action.
Board of trustees!
It’s a disease.
It makes us wheeze.
It does not please.
We’re on our knees.
Please, oh please,
Thanks Elaine. 🙂
Great post! I love this!
Donors really care about what they can accomplish through you. They don’t care so much how you get there. Let your internal operations stay internal.”
Exactly Jocelyn. No one wants to see how the sausage gets made. No one cares what department did what. No one cares about the fact you just spent hours discussing whether you’ll use the term “clients” or “participants.” Show them the IMPACT.
Great post, Claire.
One non-profit I know describes its mission thus: “The overall objective of our projects is to provide catalyst support in the backward districts and create an enabling environment to decentralize at the state level and strengthen endowment of the local government with sufficient autonomy and resources to respond to local needs.”
I often ask people to try and guess what the nonprofit does. No one’s succeeded yet. 🙂 PS: It builds strong women leaders in villages.