Compass Points for Mission Accomplishment

I’ve been thinking about mission statements lately because they set the intention for a nonprofit organization. They are the simplest but most powerful tool you have in communicating your case to supporters. Your mission statement clarifies the reason for the organization’s existence and provides the foundation for all of its activities.

When talking with organizations about developing their mission, I sometimes hear that they are working toward a specific goal and they want to “be working themselves out of a job.” It comes from a feeling that we should be working to solve a problem once and for all. With our mission statement, we feel the urge to want to say “mission accomplished.” We feel guilty about any thought or perception, particularly in this time of being wary of toxic philanthropy, that we might use our mission to justify the continued employment of our staff or enable their livelihood on the backs of those in need.

However, the idea of a mission statement that reaches a final goal or an organizational culture of “working yourself out of a job” may allow you to reach one goal, but leaves innumerable other goals that could have been reached off the table. Instead of using your mission statement to set a goal, think of it as your compass to guide your actions.

In the book Work Rules by Laszlo Bock, Google’s former Human Resources lead, Bock shared the reasoning behind their mission statement. Google’s mission is “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That is a specific yet also open mission statement. To Bock, that is a good thing. From his experience, rather than employees feeling entitled to ongoing employment, this outlook “creates motivation to constantly innovate and push into new areas” that will fulfill the mission.

Yes, nonprofits are different than for profit businesses, but both can be mission driven, and I think the “mission accomplished” mindset is worth rethinking. A mission statement about reaching a goal offers little inspiration. A more empowering mission about an ongoing effort would allow an organization to, as Bock says, “move forward by steering with a compass rather than a speedometer.”

In my work, I’m going to try and leave the goals to strategic plans and start asking how I can turn mission statements into compasses rather than goal lines and in the process inspire even greater accomplishments.

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