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Small Business and Non-Profit Mission Statements: How to Make an Impact in a Sentence

"Without a mission statement, you may get to the top of the ladder and then realize it was leaning against the wrong building!"
Dave Ramsey

While most people think of mission statements as buzzwords for a large company, they’re extraordinarily valuable for both nonprofits and small businesses. In fact, your mission statement is the most important sentence you’ll write. After all, every bit of copy on your website, in emails, or on brochures should reflect or support that mission statement in some way. We understand it can be difficult to drill down the core of your nonprofit or business into one or two sentences, so to help you, we’re sharing tips on what makes an impactful mission statement and what to avoid.

What Is a Mission Statement?

A mission statement is a brief statement, usually just one or two sentences that succinctly communicate what your organization does. The phrase was originally coined by management expert, Peter Drucker in 1974 who believed that the mission statement should “communicate the…[organization’s]…reason for being” and act as the “foundation for priorities, strategies, plans, and work assignments,” (Drucker, 1974).

A mission statement should answer three questions:

  • What is the purpose of your nonprofit?
  • Who does the nonprofit serve?
  • How do you serve your audience or community?

A targeted mission statement that narrows down and defines the client, whether it’s a geographic scope or specific client groups often leads to increased contribution and donations, so when answering the mission statement, specificity matters (Kirk, 2010).

How Does a Vision Statement Differ from a Mission Statement?

Vision statements and mission statements are not interchangeable though many people do confuse them. Instead, a vision statement is future-focused, whereas a mission statement is continually rooted in the present.

How to Create a Powerful Nonprofit Mission Statement

Now that you have a better idea of what a mission statement is and why it’s important, here are a few tips on how to write a powerful mission statement for your business or nonprofit organization.

Make Your Mission Statement Clear and Concise

When you write a mission statement, you want to make sure that there is no question as to what your organization does and why it’s important. This means you want to use simple, direct language, rather than overly formal words, buzzwords, and jargon. If a reader can’t understand your mission statement, they won’t connect with it, and you’ll struggle to gain supporters or donors.

As you write your mission statement, write a paragraph or so about your organization, keeping a clear focus on the three key points.

For a nonproft, focus on:

  • Why your nonprofit exists
  • Who you serve
  • How you serve your population.

A small business is similar, in that your mission statement will focus on:

  • The purpose of your business
  • Who your customers are
  • How you serve your customers

The first draft doesn’t need to be short as once you get it all down, you can go back and trim or edit what you wrote into a succinct, 10 to 20-word statement that is easy to read and understand.

Communicate a Feeling of Pride in Your Mission

While you need to communicate the concrete aspects of your mission: who you serve, how you serve them, and why it’s important, both businesses and nonprofits need to make an emotional connection with the audience. While businesses can stick primarily with a voice of pride, nonprofits are a little more complicated.

For a nonprofit, it’s important to convey that your work makes an impact and you can continue to do so with the help of your audience. In a 2018 study looking at the emotion coding of a mission statement, the researchers looked at 100 organizations, including nonprofits. They found that nonprofits who conveyed pride in their cause and hope for the future in their mission statement were then able to build a more effective marketing strategy around this. By consistently communicating their mission statement or by creating content that reflected it, they were able to increase and improve engagement with their audience and see higher revenue (Straker, et. al. 2018).

Write with an Active Voice

Your nonprofit is an active organization working to fulfill a goal and serve a community or population. When you talk about your nonprofit, you want to use an active voice rather than taking a passive voice as a dynamic, active voice is more conducive to the reader or recipient of the message to take the directed action.

We understand active versus passive voice can be confusing. However, in the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the verb’s action. In passive voice, the subject is acted on by the verb. Typically, a sentence in which a verb is a form of “to be” (is, are, was, etc) in conjunction with a prepositional phrase is going to be passive.

For example:

  • Active voice: We bring sustainable farming methods to rural communities.
  • Passive voice: We are an organization that brings sustainable farming methods to rural communities.

This may not seem like a dramatic difference, but studies show that using an active voice leads to a significant increase in the audience responding to the statement and carrying out the call of action that follows (Atlay, et al. 2020).

Be Sincere

Above all, be sincere and authentic when you write your mission statement. This one or two-sentence statement will be the foundation of your organization, directing your activities, communication, and even the people you hire. If it is overly general, unrelatable, or extravagant, you will struggle to create a cohesive strategy and deliver a clear message.

Schedule a Consultation to Discuss Strategic Planning for Your Organization.

From helping you craft your mission statement to creating a strategy that aligns your organizational activities, revenue sources, and actions with your statement, Woodland Strategies, Inc. provides the strategic planning and guidance you need to succeed. To schedule a consultation, fill out the form below to get started.

Atalay, A. Selin. El Kihal, Siham. Ellsaesser, Florian. The Role of Syntactic Entropy in the Effectiveness of Marketing Messages. SSRN April 2019. Accessed online 3/31/2022.: Drucker, P. (1974). Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, and Practices. New York, NY: Harper & Roe. Accessed online 3/31/2022: Kirk, Gary. Shabnam, Beth Nolan. Nonprofit Mission Statement Focus and Financial Performance. Nonprofit Management & Leadership Volume 20, Issue 4. 2010. Accessed Online 3/22/2022 Straker, Kayla. Wrigley, Cara. From a Mission Statement to a Sense of Mission: Emotion Coding to Strengthen Digital Engagements. Journal of Creating Value, Volume 4, Issue 1. 2018. Accessed online: 3/31/2022

This article or any other promotional material(s) from Woodland Strategies, Inc. is in no way intended to be a comprehensive plan.

Please note all markets, circumstances, and results vary. Any strategic plan or marketing initiatives must follow all State and Federal laws and regulations, accordingly.

Please contact us directly for a complete assessment and plan for your individual organizational needs.

Establish a Risk Management Framework as You Advance Your Mission

Project risks, strategic risks, operational risks…All organizations face risk – no matter the sector or the size. Well-managed organizations should have a complete risk management framework established to identify and manage this inherent facet of doing business in today’s ambitious environment.

Ten Steps to a Successful Strategic Plan

Strategic planning is a significant undertaking. It requires energy, creativity, time and money. Your resources are important and limited. Get what you want! This is what we do at Woodland Strategies. Here are a few tips as you consider your upcoming planning project.

Choosing the Right Consultant

Consultants can provide valuable service and offer an objective perspective to assist organizations and team members in a variety of areas. Woodland Strategies, a business consulting firm in Minneapolis, MN, offers an assortment of consultancy services including Strategic Planning, Marketing Strategy, Development and Fundraising Strategy, and also Leadership Coaching.

How long does a typical strategic planning process take?

This is a question we are regularly asked at Woodland Strategies. Typically, a full strategic planning process can take up to six to eight months, depending on how in-depth the organizational planning team wants to take things.Your messaging – your values, mission and vision statements – can, and should, last between eight and twelve weeks. This is really the most fundamental part of your plan. It should never be rushed.