A mission statement should be more than a plaque on a wall or a footer on a web site—it should be the guiding light for an association’s activity.
Many associations pay little attention to their mission statement—being content to put some words down on a PowerPoint slide and move on. And as for revisiting it, well, that’s something for the “next Board.”
But an effective, relevant mission statement accomplishes several critical things:
- It sets a finish line. The biggest question a mission answers is “Why?” as in “Why are we doing this?” Absent this, an organization lacks purpose, and can simply lurch from activity to activity.
- It serves as a filter. In Built to Last, James Collins wrote of the importance of a “stop doing” list. Put simply, if you’re going to get to any of the items on your “to do” list, you need to have an equally long “stop doing” list to free resources. A mission statement enables organizations to filter out the activities that belong on the “stop doing” list to get to what matters.
- It attracts talented people. People are drawn to work at organizations that stand for something larger. The apocryphal story is of the janitor at NASA in the 60’s that answered “I’m helping put a man on the moon” when asked what his job was. It doesn’t have to be a man on the moon to capture the imagination of staff and volunteers.
But missions only work when they’re revisited regularly. The original mission of Dartmouth College was to educate the Native American population of northern New England. And the March of Dimes was formed to stamp out polio. Both did an effective job of revisiting their missions and refocusing the organization.
Because to them, the mission wasn’t just a PowerPoint slide, it was the key to the organization’s strategy.
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