Welcome to your Monthly Clairification Tip!
Let’s get the New Year off to a great start by revisiting your Mission Statement. Why? Because everything you do emanates from the WHY of your existence. The Mission answers the question: What would happen if your organization ceased to exist. For example, a food bank’s mission might be simply: “To End Hunger in Our Community.” If they ceased to exist, people would be hungry.
The best mission statements are succinct. Too often mission statements look like they were written by a legal team trying to capture every nuance with a different word (e.g., “We provide therapeutic, healing and supportive services to children, families and seniors who are food insecure”). If you can’t convey why you exist in a simple, concise manner, people won’t clearly understand how to help you.
Here’s an exercise you can do as an individual, or as a team. The latter is preferred, because one of the problems with so-called mission statements is that too often they were written a zillion years ago — and no one has looked at them since. So were you to go around the table at your board meeting and ask folks to write down your mission on a piece of paper, you could easily end up with more than one different statement. Trust me – I’ve had this happen more times than I’d like to say!
Sit down as a group and answer these questions individually, on paper:
NOTE: You can do this as a staff, a department, a board or as a combination of staff and volunteers. Allow no more than 10 – 15 minutes, letting people know they should keep their answers short and focused (i.e., words and phrases; not essays).
- If anything were possible, what would your organization look like? What would its impact be on the world?
- If you could describe what your organization does in a few key word phrases, what would those be?
- What is/are your most pressing problem(s) as an organization right now?
- If you could wave a magic wand, what would you ask for in order to solve the problem(s) mentioned above?
- What legacy do you want your organization to have?
- To help you accomplish your goals, what does your ideal team or outside partner(s) look like?
- How much time and resources are you willing /able to invest to see things develop?
Once you’re done, ask folks to read out their responses.
Do this question by question, while putting the answers up on a white board or easel (I prefer using an easel, as you can create separate pages for each question; then remove the pages and tape them up around the room).
Group similar responses together by circling, starring, numbering or color coding with your marker. (e.g., if you are a food bank and six people answer question #1 with “No one will be hungry” and six answer with “No one in our community will be hungry,” you can see at a glance where there is a significant divide that may impact how you rewrite your mission statement – and all your subsequent messaging).
Take a little break; then use the facilitation pointers below to get the conversation going!
During your discussions, continue taking notes on your white board or flip chart so you create a group memory. This takes the focus off of any one individual’s comments. It also assures folks that their comments were heard.
Are your answers to questions 1, 2 and 5 mentioned in your mission statement? Elsewhere on your website? If not, why?
Did each of your staff/board have similar answers? If not, you’ve got work to do! If you don’t have clarity internally, how can you expect to clearly convey what you do outside your walls?
This is where you can look at groupings of answers. If you have several different ideas competing for prominence, this can be the starting point for discussion. Is the heart of your mission all of these things? Are some of these things merely programs subsumed within your mission?
Review your responses to question #3. As a team, rank order these problems. Combine overlapping ideas. Remove any that are not strategic priorities.
Review your responses to question 4. Which responses solve more than one of your most pressing problems? What would it take to bring your wishes to reality? What’s possible/not possible?