Since everyone is heading back to school, 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?
- Smithville is a vibrant, thriving and self-sustaining community.
- To fight the causes and effects of poverty through service, advocacy and friendship.
- 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? Many nonprofits get vision and mission a little mixed up. But they are an important part of telling your story and help keep your organization relevant. 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 (without mentioning the organization itself). It answers what the community will 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 unique reason for existence and its priorities and methods for accomplishing the vision (“unique” meaning that it connects to your unique value proposition). Mission statements 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. Think of vision and mission in these terms – the vision is the bullseye you and others are trying to hit to create a better world. It inspires action. Your mission is the arrow. It guides your actions and helps you make decisions about what you pursue and, more importantly, what you decline. 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 (vision) shapes your agency’s approach (mission).
If you don’t have a vision statement or don’t know where to start, here are four steps to get you going:
- 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. Then, aggregate those findings as a starting point.
- Convene a small group to wordsmith possible vision statements.
- 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. If it is too bland or could be the mission of a competitor, start over!
- Once finished, pair it with the mission statement and see if they go together. They should complement one another and collectively provide focus. When your mission and vision are aligned with your organization’s core values, we call this the “holy trinity” – it’s what inspires collective action.
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 it our way. We would love to see them!
(1) Vision (2) Mission (3) Vision