query: mission statements

colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Fri Dec 22 16:21:29 CST 2000

[ed:  thanks to Dick, Jim, Laura, and Doug for the information 
and thoughts addressing Eric's query. ]

From: Dick Schoech <schoech at uta.edu>

        A book that tries to make sense of mission, etc. is 
Sluyter, G. V. (1998). Improving Organizational Performance: A 
practical guidebook for the human services field. Newbury Park, 
CA: Sage.

Dick Schoech <mailto:schoech at uta.edu>
U of TX at Arlington
Box 19129, 211 S. Cooper, Arl TX 76019-0129
HUSITA6 12-16 Sep 2001 (http://husita.org)


From: Jim Mays <jmays at ulster.net>

Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations by Michael 
Allison & Jude Kaye [Wiley] goes into the question of Mission 
Statements and even has a work sheet on the topic [perhaps 
overkill] The cliche's do contain more than a germ of truth.:-)
cheers, Jim Mays


From: "Laura C. McKieran" <lmckieran at nyam.org>


I've thought about a lot of the same things you are. So far as I 
know, the mission statement's origins are, unfortunately, in the 
professional planning/services world, with all the attendant 
grassroots-unfriendly baggage.  

I don't know of empirical evidence about mission statements per 
se, but there's a growing body of literature looking at what 
makes groups work well, and one thing that crops up over and 
over is the value of a shared vision or goal, consonant 
expectations and understandings of roles, etc. And if you think 
about the ever-more-popular theory of change/logic model/theory 
of action approach to planning and evaluation, it's easier to 
see how creating a thoughtful "if-then" sequence of events 
requires starting with a shared end goal in mind, as well as 
some philosophy, assumptions, and so forth that influence what 
the group is or isn't willing or able to do to reach that end 

So my sense is that the *process* of developing the mission 
statement may be what's really valuable to the group, assuming 
that the process is characterized by dialogue, mutual respect, 
and so forth. If papers talking about the value of a shared 
vision would help you, email me off list at lmckieran at vei.net 
and I'll get some citations to you.

Laura McKieran


From: "Doug Hess" <DHess at frac.org>

I think a lot of management consultant recommendation are 
specious, so you can always try the Dilbert Mission Statement 

More seriously, the idea behind having a mission or vision 
statement, or both, is to make sure that all the 
staff/board/donors are on board as to what the group is 
basically all about. Obviously, it doesn't immediately help with 
specifics of what you are doing, or should do, since you can 
imagine many various organizational approaches to community 
organizing all having the same brief statement.  Nonetheless, 
sitting down with staff and thinking up a concise way to 
describe what it is you do can help clear up misunderstandings 
about your/their work and what it is you don't do.  I think this 
can be pretty important.  For instance, if you work just in a 
certain neighborhood, or for a certain consistency, or organize 
in a certain way, this is very important, albeit basic, info to 
have down for both the public and yourselves.  This is 
especially true for developing new staff and boardmembers.

Having said that, you can also use a brief statement as your 
Vision Statement and a more specific one as a Mission Statement. 
 I.e., the vision statement says you are "organizing residents 
of x community to have more control over social, econ and 
political developments in the neighborhood."  If you are just 
working on school issues or kids issues or women's issues, say 
so.  Then in the mission statement you could outline in a few 
sentences how you do this organizing: "NAME of GROUP will 
fulfill its mission through: 1) building a membership 
organization funded and run by membership from  X community, 2) 
training local residents to run for school boards or whatever, 
etc.".  Again, concise yet thorough is the point.  Try to avoid 
vague jargon statements like this one from the webpage generator 
above: "We have committed to proactively facilitate excellent 
catalysts for change while continuing to efficiently 
administrate value-added methods of empowerment."

Usually, these documents are best developed at retreats with 
staff, board, etc. when you are trying to make your plans for 
the next year or two. Once you realize, or get others to 
realize, what it is they want to do, you can use this to get 
into the nitty gritty, and get everybody to buy into the nitty 
gritty. For instance, if your mission and vision say you build 
power through membership, how many members do you want in 6 
months, 12 months, and how many staff do you need to do that in 
6 months, 12 months, and how many neighborhoods are you going to 
be in by those dates, how much money do you need to bring it 
each month, etc., etc. 

These statements are useful documents for when people bring up 
brand new big ideas and the group can think about them 
critically, without coming off like jerks, by just asking: 
"well, how does that fit the mission and vision of our 
organization?"  E.g, some board member wants the group to start 
a new grocery store, or newspaper for the community. Big idea. 
Does it fit? Are some parts of it that fit achievable in a 
different format? Maybe instead of the group running a 
development project, you see that you want to do an organizing 
campaign to get the city to fund more development in your area, 
or have a quarterly newsletter, and not a "newspaper", which 
pulls you away from the basics of what you agreed you are all 
about.  (Sometimes people say that your statements should be 
seen as describing your "core competencies".  This means that 
you are including what it is that you do best and things outside 
that realm, no matter how interesting and arguably related, can 
be seen as weakening your core strengths. "You can't do it all," 
is what the statements are telling you, "instead, you are to be 
the experts at x,y and z.")

Once you have these goals that relate both to your statements 
and to knowledge and desires about your local organization and 
community, you can list them in a column on a grid. The next 12 
columns are labeled as the months of the year.  For each major 
goal, which months are important? Across from each goal what 
activities or steps should be filled in below which month. For 
some goals, maybe you are doing activities for it in each month, 
for others maybe it is only relevant for a few months (e.g., 
annual fundraising dinner in May requires work from Feb-May, 
etc.), or there are sub-goals that lead up the bigger goal (put 
ads in paper in January, have staff hired by Feb and training 
for Mar-Apr, start two new drives in May, then repeat, etc.).  
If you really want to get specific, maybe at a later point, you 
need to start putting staff/board/leaders' names next to 
projects.  This lets you see if you are missing people to 
accomplish goals, or if some people are taking on too much, or 
too little in some months and visa versa in other months, etc.

In the end, the vision/mission/strategic planning "thing" is not 
just to get some holy grail-like product, but to get all your 
major stakeholders to buy into a process that lets them think 
more clearly about the organizations' work.  Out of that you 
should strive to get a plan that they support and understand.  
It's not magic, but I think most people agree that having a 
focused staff and leadership is one of the best things you can 
have; maybe THE best thing.

Anyway, that's my take on it....

Doug Hess
Food Research and Action Center
Senior Policy Analyst
1875 Connecticut Ave, NW #540
Washington, DC 20009
ph. 202-986-2200 ext 3004
fax 202-986-2525

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