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We’re all familiar with the concept of a mission statement. You may have created one for your own nonprofit, be aware of one for an organization you support, or maybe you’ve even developed one for your personal life.

Although most of us are well acquainted with the concept, the true importance, especially as it relates to fueling your nonprofit, is often underestimated. Too often, organizations spend a meeting or days’ worth of time crafting their mission, vision, and values (MVV) and then move on to other things without revisiting or revising them over time to ensure they are an effective tool.

Let’s take a look at why crafting a specific and defined mission, vision, and value set are so critically important to the success of your nonprofit, a few of the common pitfalls related to this task, and what can be gained when your organization gets it right.


What are mission, vision, and values statements?

Although you likely understand the idea behind each of these, it is worth spending a bit of time discussing what, specifically, mission, vision, and values are and how they should be different from yet complement each other.

On mission statements, one author says this: “At its best, a nonprofit’s mission statement is a succinct expression of an organization’s essential reason for existence or core purpose” (Bridgespan 2022). Though different organizations’ missions will range from one to a few sentences in length and differ in the specifics of what they are trying to communicate, the overarching principle should remain the same for everyone — to communicate their organization’s purpose and reason for existing.

The vision statement follows, then, by not just explaining why the nonprofit exists, but how the world (or their local community — whatever that organization’s scope may be) would look different if its mission was achieved. A vision statement is “an extension of your nonprofit’s mission statement. It gives your beneficiaries, donors, and volunteers a clear idea of the impact of your work. It’s referred to as a vision statement because it’s a snapshot of the future your nonprofit is working towards” (Jones 2022).

Lastly, nonprofits often list their values — the qualities or characteristics that are important to their organization. Many times, these serve more of an internal function than external, but they certainly can (and we would argue should) play an important outward-facing role for your organization, especially as you try to attract donors (more on this below).


Common Pitfalls

When defined as they are above, creating an effective MVV seems easy enough, so, what goes wrong? There tend to be two common issues that plague nonprofit organizations: lack of clarity and mission creep.

According to Kim Jonker and William F. Meehan III, both lecturers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and authors for the Stanford Social Innovation Review:

A mission statement, therefore, is one of the most useful tools that nonprofit entities (including foundations) have available to them. A clear and well-focused mission statement can serve to guide all major decisions that a nonprofit organization must make — especially decisions about which new programs and projects to undertake, which to avoid, and which to exit.

But most are too broad, they say. In fact, each year they have Stanford graduate students complete a simple exercise where each is assigned a nonprofit organization. The students then spend time studying the nonprofit’s mission (and vision and values) statement and interviewing key stakeholders. 10,000 students have completed this activity over 16 years, and “each year, at least 75 percent of these students discover that the mission statement that they are evaluating lacks rudimentary clarity and encompasses so many activities that even a large, resource-rich organization would struggle to do them all, let alone do them with excellence.”

This simple study highlights both of the common problems facing nonprofits (lack of clarity and mission creep) when it comes to MVV. Many try to take on too much, which is reflected in their communications of purpose (both internally and externally). In trying, perhaps, to do more good (by tackling more problems), organizations actually just lose focus on what originally mattered most to them (and their supporters). This lack of specificity creates issues for those already bought in and involved with their organizations but perhaps becomes even more problematic when trying to attract new donors to their cause.


What makes good mission, vision, and values statements

The same Stanford Social Innovation study mentioned above goes on to lay out seven characteristics of a “well-honed” mission (which, in turn, will help produce equally helpful vision and values). They said a nailed-down mission statement is:

  1. Focused
  2. Solves unmet public needs
  3. Leverages unique skills
  4. Guides trade-offs
  5. Inspires and is inspired by key stakeholders
  6. Anticipates changes
  7. Sticks in the memory

Jonker and Meehan argue that a mission that is missing just one of these will struggle to use its resources efficiently and will often get distracted from its core purpose. Since our focus at Atticus is helping you identify and secure major donors, two of their seven characteristics stand out in particular — that your mission, vision, and values should inspire and be inspired by key stakeholders and stick in their memory.

Atticus’s technology looks at your mission, vision, and values and those of potential donors to identify where there may be a match. With this being the case, it becomes even more imperative that your statements are clear, specific, and relevant to your current and desired stakeholders and donors. When your MVV is fuzzy or hard to pin down, the same becomes true of potential donors.

In addition to the benefits a clear mission, vision, and values will bring to those already working in and with your organization, it is also absolutely essential when it comes to attracting new partners — especially as you search for new and untapped high-net-worth individuals to join your cause. Fundraisers want to be able to confidently approach the right people at the right time, focusing their efforts and time only on those who you know are highly aligned to your MVV (and knowing in advance why this person may be a good fit for your organization).

So, with this in mind, your organization’s job is to take a good look at your mission, vision, and values. Do they fit the criteria of those that are “well-honed”? If not, spend time making adjustments so that each of these statements is clear and concise. Then, when you’re ready, reach out to Atticus and we’ll do the rest, helping you find people who are passionate about your cause and ready to fund it.