Focused nonprofit mission statements that aren't gimmicky

Nonprofit Mission Statements (With Examples!) That Avoid Gimmicks and Distractions

September 1, 2023
5 minutes
A swirly, artistic rendering of a map in blues and greens is the backdrop for map-ish white arcs, dotted lines, and concentric circles.

Let us set the scene: Spring has sprung, the grass is green, the air is sweet with jasmine. Your garden is overflowing with flowers, and your inbox is overflowing with spring fundraising campaigns. ...which is cool, but also makes you think, “So because the weather’s slightly more temperate, I should donate to 27 different causes?”

As a nonprofit, working day in and day out to support a worthy cause, you never want a supporter to flinch when they see a new email from you. So today, we're taking a step back and refocusing on what matters: your mission.

We’ll walk through the basics of why your mission statement matters, how to write a compelling mission statement, and some nonprofit mission statement examples. Then, we'll get into how to use your fantabulous mission strategically and authentically. This will ensure that when your supporters receive that next spring fundraising email, they’re reminded of why your work matters—and why right now is a perfect time to give. In fact, they’ll probably exclaim, “This slightly more temperate weather gives me the energy to focus on how every child deserves access to healthful food! Let me grab my wallet.”

  1. Why Are Mission Statements Important?
  2. Using Your Mission Statement to Support Your Fundraising Efforts
  3. 9 Essential Elements of Mission Statements
  4. How to Write the Perfect Mission Statement for Your Nonprofit in 5 Steps
  5. Questions to Get Your Best Mission Statement Started
  6. Examples of Great Nonprofit Mission Statements
  7. What Other Strategic Elements Should Accompany a Nonprofit Mission Statement?
  8. What Makes a Bad Nonprofit Mission Statement?
  9. Keep Your Nonprofit Mission Statement Fresh
  10. Crafting Mission-Focused Campaigns
  11. Other Times to Remember Your Mission
  12. Mission-Driven Campaign Examples
  13. Mission Statements and Staying Mission-Focused: FAQs

Why Are Mission Statements Important?

Writing a mission statement isn't just a creative writing exercise; it's about defining and communicating your organization's purpose for your key stakeholders and target audience. It shapes your strategy, goals, and decision-making so that you can move forward with clarity and consistency. And it differentiates your org from everyone else out there.

Think of it as your true north; without it, you’re lost in the woods. (Maybe we’re quoting Frozen 2. And maybe it’s because Jonathan Groff’s performance of “Lost in the Woods” doesn’t get the accolades it deserves.) 

Using Your Mission Statement to Support Your Fundraising Efforts

At the end of the day, just like you need to set boundaries to focus your energy and resources, you need to focus your fundraising efforts on your organization’s purpose. All of your messaging should, ultimately, speak to your mission—to the goals you want to achieve and the impact you want to have. That’s why your mission statement is so darn important. It's what inspires donors. It's what sparks loyalty and generosity. And it's what makes people rally behind you, whether it's Giving Tuesday or just Wednesday, March 2nd. 

9 Essential Elements of Mission Statements

So, what makes a well-crafted mission statement—one that appeals to the generosity of donors and motivates your staff and volunteers to succeed? Let's break it down.

  1. Purpose
  2. Differentiation
  3. Clarity
  4. Brevity
  5. Digestibility
  6. Audience awareness
  7. Action
  8. Inspiration
  9. Flexibility

1. Your purpose.

This is the holy grail of your statement. You need to define why you do what you do.

2. Your differentiator.

Your mission should set you apart from all the other orgs out there. 

3. Crystal clarity.

When you write your mission, don't leave anything to the imagination. This is not the time for poetic or vague language. Keep it simple, make it clear.

4. Conciseness.

Your statement should be short. Part of communicating clearly is avoiding too many words, so keep it succinct and to the point.

5. Readability.

Your mission statement will be read by many different people, so it needs to be accessible. Some guides will tell you to write for a 6th-grade reading level, others will say an 8th-grade reading level, and still others a 10th-grade reading level. The point is: don't write for PhD candidates. Make it readable so everyone knows what you're about.

6. All the target audiences!

Keep your full target audience in mind—staff included. While you want to speak to current and potential donors, don't forget about your internal people, too. A great organizational culture begins with a great mission statement.

7. Strong verbs aplenty.

A successful mission is all about those action verbs. How are you doing what you do? Safe drinking water is great, but how are you getting clean water to people? We all love medical care, but how are you increasing access? Action verbs show that you're playing an active role in fighting the good fight.

8. Inspire 'em.

You're a nonprofit organization, trying to build a better world. That means your statement needs to inspire everyone who reads it.

9. Room for change.

While vision statements are forever, missions can change with time. So, give yourself some flexibility.

How to Write the Perfect Mission Statement for Your Nonprofit in 5 Steps

With those elements in place, we can start writing an effective mission statement draft. Here's a quick how-to guide:

  1. Discover your purpose
  2. Uncover your values
  3. Unpack your goals
  4. Put the pieces together
  5. Edit and re-edit

1. Write down your purpose.

Why you exist is the foundation for your mission statement.

2. Next, write down your values.

You know what you do, but why do you do it? This will ensure a mission that resonates and feels authentic. 

3. Explain how you achieve that purpose.

You've got a purpose and values. Now, unpack those action verbs and jot down how you work toward achieving your goals and upholding your values.

4. Combine 'em. Fit those three pieces together.

Usually, missions start with "To ..." but you do you.

5. Edit and edit again.

You'll go through many rough drafts before unveiling your final mission statement. Review and revise and edit and shine until you have something that everyone loves.

Questions to Get Your Best Mission Statement Started

Still stuck? It may help you to ask your team and stakeholders some key questions. 

  • Why do we exist?
  • What do we believe?
  • What sets us apart from other nonprofits?
  • What's our goal for our clients?
  • How do we do what we do?
  • Who is our target audience?
  • Why should prospective donors give to us instead of other organizations?

Examples of Great Nonprofit Mission Statements

If you're all revved up and ready to write, it's time for a little mission inspiration. Here are some examples of nonprofit mission statements that are more than just empty words; they set our hearts aflutter.

MOMA's mission incorporates a diversity of purposes for their diverse stakeholders, leading with their over-arching purpose and then delving into their more specific future aspirations.

The Museum of Modern Art connects people from around the world to the art of our time. We aspire to be a catalyst for experimentation, learning, and creativity, a gathering place for all, and a home for artists and their ideas.

Goodwill focuses on the values-driven bigger picture, then backs it up with a list of the key ways in which they make that goal a reality. It's a relatable goal supported by achievable actions, which is a recipe for mission success.

Goodwill® works to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.

Lambda Literary's statement is (unsurprisingly!) eloquently written but still accessible. We especially like how it creates a sense of unity and community by using "we."

Lambda Literary nurtures and advocates for LGBTQ writers, elevating the impact of their words to create community, preserve our legacies, and affirm the value of our stories and our lives.

Feeding America incorporates its vision into its mission statement, highlighting how they get the day-to-day work done as well as their larger goal.

To feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger

World Wildlife Fund's mission is straightforward and readable, echoing the urgency of its work.

Our mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

OCDC's mission is all about how they do what they do, letting stakeholders know that they're not just dreaming big; they're making change.

Oregon Child Development Coalition (OCDC) is dedicated to improving the lives of children and families by providing early childhood education, care and advocacy with unique and supportive services to enhance family growth and community success.

The American Museum of Natural History's mission is succinct and focused, carefully interweaving their what with their how and demonstrating their broad, ever-growing scope.

To discover, interpret, and disseminate—through scientific research and education—knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.

What Other Strategic Elements Should Accompany a Nonprofit Mission Statement?

In addition to having mission and vision statements, every nonprofit should have the following elements in their back pocket (or on their website). You'll thank us when the next strategic planning session rolls around!

Vision Statement

Whereas your mission is about your organizational goals in the present, your vision statement is about your over-arching goals for the future. In an ideal world, what would you achieve? Your vision is big and aspirational. For example, for a hunger-relief organization, your mission might include providing the poorest communities with nutritious food. Your vision, however, might be a world without hunger.

Values Statements

Your mission already reflects your values, but you also want to clearly outline those values as a stand-alone item. Customers want to know that the businesses they support align with their values and are intentional about how they operate--and that's even more true for nonprofits. Happily, this is fairly easy: just write down a list of your key values

Strategic Plan

Your strategic plan incorporates all of the above: mission, vision, and values. You reflect on all these pieces, break them into actionable and doable goals, and then create a roadmap for how you'll get where you want to go for each item.

What Makes a Bad Nonprofit Mission Statement?

It should come as no surprise that there are also plenty of bad mission statements out there. But what makes a bad mission statement? For starters, many of them suffer from being too vague. As we've discussed and demonstrated, clarity (and a 6th-grade reading level!) are the name of the game. Others are too internally focused, neglecting to mention the impact on the community and the greater goal. To improve these bad mission statements, you know what to do: aim for clarity, brevity, and a focus on impact. Show why you're a special unicorn. Edit, edit, and edit again. And remember: a solid mission statement is the foundation of your nonprofit's identity, so make it great!

Keep Your Nonprofit Mission Statement Fresh

One last note before you tie a bow on your mission and tuck it away into a nice, dark, cool corner. Your mission isn't a one-and-done effort. Sorry! Instead, just like a nonprofit fundraising plan, it's a living, changing organism, and that means you need to go back to it regularly and give it a makeover. Was there a major change in your industry? Back to the mission. Have you seen a significant shift in your audience? Time to rewrite. Do you have new goals? Edit away.

Crafting Mission-Focused Campaigns

Once you have a killer nonprofit mission statement, you want it to serve as the foundation for all your fundraising efforts going forward. Sometimes, it’s easy to get carried away with creative fundraising ideas or clever language. We get it—and we love having a reason to celebrate or host a themed dinner. But ultimately, every fundraising campaign should be driven by your mission, and the language and visuals should reflect that.

So, what does a mission-focused campaign look like? Well, rather than sending an email that declares, “It’s our spring fundraising campaign!”, you would remind your supporters that spring has sprung, and it’s time to leap into action by donating to fight poverty.

Let’s do another one. It’s not your “annual holiday gift drive.” It’s the season for giving back, and your nonprofit is giving back to animals in need all year long by finding them forever homes.

All we’re doing here is keeping the focus on our efforts and letting the season or holiday inspire our messaging. That way, your mission is always at the forefront, reminding you and your supporters why you do what you do.

Other Times to Remember Your Mission

In addition to avoiding seasonal gimmicks in your messaging, there are other times when we tend to let our missions fall by the wayside. Here are a few areas to keep an eye on:

  • Speaking about unrelated causes or issues. While advocacy is wonderful, and it’s important to use your platform as a nonprofit to support other causes, this shouldn’t be a frequent occurrence.
  • Appealing to different donor segments. Segmenting is a must when it comes to your donor data! But be careful about making too many assumptions about what millennials want versus boomers. In the end, most donors just want to support a cause they care about. So, again, it’s all about that mission—not how cleverly you reference TikTok for your Gen Z donor base.
  • Addressing crises. As we learned during COVID (and as we continue to learn), crises create challenges and opportunities. Don’t let a crisis derail your sense of purpose—reassess, adapt, and keep going.

Mission-Driven Campaign Examples Galore

We’ve talked the talk, and now it’s time to check out some nonprofit organizations that are walking the walk when it comes to relating their actions and programs to their mission.

Whole Women’s Health Alliance: Spring

Whole Women’s Health Alliance keeps the focus on how spring relates to their goal to provide quality care for all women, and how it’s a prime time for supporters to get involved and donate “to plant new seeds.”

Amoud Relief & Development: Ramadan

Ramadan is a month of increased introspection and generosity, as well as fasting from sun up to sun down. Hunger-relief organization Amoud Relief & Development’s “Feed the Fasting” campaign reminds supporters that many don’t know when their fast will end—but donors can change that and ensure everyone looks forward to iftar (the meal that breaks the daily Ramadan fast).

Oregon Wild: Spring Estate Planning

Oregon Wild connects spring to their mission and to estate planning in a conversational, upbeat email.

Trans Lifeline: Winter Holidays

Trans Lifeline clearly and eloquently connects their “holiday fundraising” to an increased need in the community. Sure, there’s a little hyperlink typo in there, but it doesn’t diminish the impact of their message (and far be it from us to throw stones—pobody's nerfect).

Mission Statements and Staying Mission-Focused: FAQs

What makes a good mission statement for a nonprofit organization?

A strong mission statement details what your nonprofit does and why you exist. Above all else, a great mission statement should be useful. It should also be unambiguous, succinct, and inspiring.

Why do you need a mission?

A killer nonprofit mission guides your organization's actions across a range of situations and contexts, shares your purpose with stakeholders, and motivates your people.

What mistakes should nonprofits look out for in terms of their mission?

Don’t take on too much. While you want to be open to new opportunities for growth, you also want to remain focused. Keep it short and clear. And be sure to review your mission statement regularly—it should evolve along with the organization.

What is the difference between a nonprofit purpose and mission?

A nonprofit's purpose is its raison d'être, its reason for being. In other words, the purpose is why your nonprofit exists. On the other hand, the mission is a more specific and actionable statement that outlines all the things we've discussed: not only the purpose but how it approaches fulfilling its purpose. So, if the purpose is the why, the mission is also the what and how. 

What is a simple example of mission and vision?

For an organization that makes sweaters for polar bears, the mission might be: to make sweaters for polar bears so they aren't too cold. The vision could then be: to create a world in which every polar bear has what it needs to be safe and comfortable.

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