Nonprofit Mission, Vision, and Values

How to clarify the how, what, and why of your organization

Every nonprofit and business has a version of a mission statement (at least they should), and some include a vision and values statement as well. Some organizations focus too much attention on it, spending countless hours trying to hash out the perfect wording. Other organizations don’t care enough and throw together something generic and meaningless.

Mission, vision, and values (MVV) statements serve an internal and external purpose. Internally, they help guide what an organization does, where it focuses its time and energy, how it operates, and what it says “yes” and “no” to. Externally, it clarifies for and convinces potential supporters of why they should partner with the organization.

If you’re currently working through your MVV statements, already have ones that you know you need to brush up on, or are starting from scratch creating them, this will help clarify what they are, what purpose they serve, and how to write them.

Your Values Are the “Why”

People often start with the mission, then end up at the values. But I think it’s important to actually start with the values first. They are often an afterthought, but are really at the core of everything you do.

Your values are your beliefs about what is right and what is important. What you do may change, but your values stay consistent. Sometimes referred to as the big “Why,” it answers the question of why you do what you do. These belief statements, often referred to as “core values,” help shape the identity of your organization as well as informing your supporters of how they should also align their values.

Start by listing out all the belief statements you have about the world and about people – related to the area your organization is in. Starting each item with the phrase “I believe that…” with help you come up with this list.

Next, look for similarities and trends that emerge, along with statements that you really connect with. Identify 3-5 statements to be your “core values.” They can often be formatted as simple phrases, with a few sentences attached to each for elaboration.

Remember that your values don’t include anything about what you do as an organization. They are simply beliefs about how the world should be, how people should act or be treated, and what is important in life.

Your Vision is the “What”

Your vision should come next because it is the result of what happens if everyone lived out your values. Ask yourself what life would look like if people held these values and acted out on them.

The vision statement is the world you want to create. It should be in stark contrast to the world as it is right now, and justify the reason for your organization existing. You may never actually achieve that vision, but it’s something that you move closer to as a result of your work. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel that inspires your organization and your supporters to keep pushing forward.

Create your vision statement by thinking of what needs to happen for your organization to no longer need to exist. List out several points and string it together in a few sentences. Common ways of starting could be “We believe in a world that…” or “We envision that one day…”

Also keep in mind that your vision statement, like your values, won’t indicate anything about the work you do. The vision is about the end result, and there are many different ways to achieve that.

Your Mission is the “How”

The mission statement is usually what organizations think of first and stress out over. But it should come last because it can only exist after you define what’s important and what you want to achieve. Now you can figure out how you’ll do it.

Your mission statement describes the unique thing that you do to achieve your vision. It’s what separates you from other organizations. It has to be specific to describe exactly how your organization’s actions are going to achieve the outcome of your vision.

Start by listing out all the activities your organization does, big and small. Then group those together into 2-3 big categories.

Your mission statement will usually be 1-2 sentences, and include a brief version of your vision along with what activities you do to achieve that vision. Your activity could be a singular or 2-3 different activities.

Some common formats for a mission statement could be:

  • “Our mission is to ensure [brief vision] by [your activities].”
  • “We [your activities] so that [brief vision].”

A struggle that many organizations encounter when trying to write a mission statement is to try to account for every single thing they do or talk about who they are. Keep your mission statement simple. It should find the balance between being specific enough so your organization’s work is clear, but broad enough that all your current and future activities can fall under the umbrella of that mission.

Tips to Create Your Mission, Vision, and Values Statements

There’s no one way to develop your MVV, but if you’re struggling with the process, here are some tips:

  • Include your team. You shouldn’t be doing it by yourself.
  • Limit who is involved. Not everyone needs to participate – just those in leadership or who have been around longer.
  • Do pre-work. Before you meet and discuss, have individuals answer questions and create drafts.
  • Set limits and deadlines. Decide how long you want to work on this and end it when it’s over.
  • Focus on the content. Make sure your statements are simple, clear, and concise first before you spruce it up to make it sound nice.
  • Assign one person to write the final drafts. Decide how many revisions you’ll go through, then finalize it.
  • Revisit later. If you’re not fully satisfied with your statements, use what you have and table the discussion to for 6 months to a year later. You have more important things to do.

Get Help with Your Mission, Vision, and Values

I’ve worked with numerous nonprofits in developing their MVV statements along with their overall brand identity. Having an outside perspective come in usually brings clarity and speeds up the process.

Sign up for a free 20-minute discovery call on Zoom to get some insight into your MVV statements and see if a consultant can help.

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