Since everyone is heading back to school for the spring semester (my first day as professor at UT Arlington was on Saturday), we thought we’d start this blog out with a POP QUIZ!
The sentences below are a mix of vision statements and mission statements. Can you tell which is which?
1. Smithville is a vibrant, thriving and self-sustaining community.
2. To fight the causes and effects of poverty through service, advocacy and friendship.
3. A world where every woman, man and child leads a healthy, fulfilling life of self-reliance and dignity.
You can find the answers at the bottom of the blog. How did you do? If you are like most nonprofits, you likely got vision and mission a little mixed up. It is hard to get the statements just right. But, to stay relevant, they need to change with the times. When we work on a strategic planning process with clients, this is often one of the best places to start. Based on our surveys, only 76% of boards and staff members are satisfied with their statements. And, even so, many want to upgrade them to make them more compelling, clear and succinct. To help, we thought we’d provide a quick tutorial on vision vs. mission and some tips we use with clients.
- Vision Statement– A vision statement describes the organization’s desired future state of the world – what will the community look like once the agency has accomplished its mission? The best vision statements are one-sentence statements that are aspirational, memorable and succinct.
- Mission Statement– A mission statement describes the organization’s reason for existence and shares its unique value proposition as well as its priorities and methods for accomplishing the vision. It should provide a link between the current state and the future state. The best mission statements are easy to memorize, action-oriented and understandable.
It is very common for organizations to confuse the two or to place more emphasis on the mission. While mission is important, vision plays an equally important role. In our research, we’ve found that many social sector organizations do not have vision statements, which is a missed opportunity to tell and sell your story. A vision statement tells stakeholders why they should care – right now – which is incredibly helpful in a world where social sector organizations must compete with the 3,000 to 20,000 marketing messages consumers see daily. The vision, like a compass, directs the scope of the solution provided in the mission statement. It can guide thinking and help you make decisions. For example, if your vision is for every third grader to be a proficient reader, your agency’s mission will be heavily geared toward literacy. Alternatively, an organization whose vision is for every child to be ready for kindergarten will be focused broadly on literacy, math, social skills and more. How you frame the problem shapes your agency’s approach.
If you don’t have a vision statement or don’t know where to start, here are four steps to get you going:
1. Begin with market research. Research your competitors’or other similar organizations’ vision statements and/or survey your stakeholders for input on their definition of ultimate success and aggregate those findings as a starting point.
2. Convene a small group to wordsmith possible vision statements.
3. Test the resulting product with individuals not involved in the process to see what excites and resonates with people most. Vision and mission statements are best when they are unique to your organization. We recommend testing it and seeing if a competitor could have the same statement.
4. Once finished, pair it with the mission statement and see if they go together. They should complement one another and collectively provide inspiration and focus.
We hope you’ll take a moment to develop or refresh your social sector organization’s vision statement. If you have a great vision statement you are dying to share with us, please shoot them our way.
(1) Vision (2) Mission (3) Vision