I have been in the nonprofit world for over 20 years. I have been to countless meetings and events where nonprofit leaders are called upon to say in a sentence or two the mission and/or summary of how they serve the community. Too often I hear nonprofit leaders (me included) unable to quickly articulate what exactly their organization does for the community. The name of their organization is vague “Mission City” or “Hope for the World” or “Love Everybody Inc” (names I made up) and their mission is too long and incoherent. Then when the leader is called upon to explain, they cannot clearly paint a picture of who benefits from their services, why others should partner with them and what measurable results they are seeking to accomplish.

3 nonprofit lessons I have learned and questions I seek to answer:

1) Who is the hero of your organization’s story?

When you are giving the story of your organization, who wins? Who is the hero? Is the hero graduates of your addiction recovery program or the illiterate adult who learns to read or the mother who learns to feed her children nutritious meals? There may be many stakeholders who care and support your organization (donors, board members, staff, volunteers) but at the end of the day, name the individual(s) who are the reason your organization exists. Do you have a face or life attached to why your organization exists? Make them the preeminent focus of your marketing and your “rally cry” as an organization. Check out Donald Miller’s book, Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen to learn more.

2) If your organization disappeared tomorrow, who would miss you?

If your organization went away, who would be most impacted (other than paid staff)? It can give you an indication of your impact and the difference you are making. Reach out to those stakeholders and find opportunities they can speak into your organization in ways which cause it to grow and prosper. Hearing their stories can inspire your team to keep going and not give up! Too often we miss out and fail to ask the advice of people and gain inspiration from those who deeply care about the success of our organization. They can give voice to the purpose of your existence.

3) Say in one sentence the outcome you are seeking from all of your programs and activities.

For all the work your staff and volunteers do, are you measuring the inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes for the whirlwind of services you are engaged? Where are you headed? Can you state it in a sentence? Too often I hear the reason organizations exist are broad unmeasurable objectives like to “save the world” or “have all the children sing in harmony.” How do you measure a success? How are your outcomes measured and how long does it take for a successful outcome of your program? How are you moving the “needle” to improve the lives of people impacted by your activities? If you are not measuring what you are doing, why do it?

An excellent quote from a book I highly recommend–“The compassion industry is almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise. But what is so surprising is that its outcomes are almost entirely unexamined.” Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It),

Those are just a few thoughts. Let me know what you would add. Check out a great article on clarifying the why of what you do titled, 50 Mission Statements from Top Nonprofits from TopNonprofits.com.

50 Mission Statements from Top Nonprofits

TED: Spreading Ideas. (2 words)

The Humane Society: Celebrating Animals, Confronting Cruelty. (4 words)

Smithsonian: The increase and diffusion of knowledge. (6 words)

Monterey Bay Aquarium: To inspire conservation of the oceans. (6)

Wounded Warrior Project: To honor and empower wounded warriors. (6)

Best Friends Animal Society: A better world through kindness to animals. (7)

Kiva: To connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. (8)

Livestrong: To inspire and empower people affected by cancer. (8)

Invisible Children: To bring a permanent end to LRA atrocities. (8)

Public Broadcasting System (PBS): To create content that educates, informs and inspires. (8)

USO lifts the spirits of America’s troops and their families. (9)

Human Rights Campaign Working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. (9)

National Wildlife Federation: Inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future. (9)

Oxfam: To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice. (10)

charity: water: Bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. (10)

American Heart Association: To build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. (10)

Environmental Defense Fund: To preserve the natural systems on which all life depends. (10)

New York Public Library: To inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities. (10)

The Nature Conservancy: To conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. (11)

CARE: To serve individuals and families in the poorest communities in the world. (12)

National Parks Conservation Association: To protect and enhance America’s National Park System for present and future generations. (13)

JDRF: To find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research. (14)

Heifer International: To work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth. (14)

ASPCA: To provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. (15)

Defenders of Wildlife: The protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. (15)

Amnesty International: To undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of these rights. (15)

Creative Commons develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation. (15)

March of Dimes: We help moms have full-term pregnancies and research the problems that threaten the health of babies. (16)

American Diabetes Association: To prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. (16)

Habitat for Humanity International: Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope. (16)

In Touch Ministries: To lead people worldwide into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and to strengthen the local church. (17)

Cleveland Clinic: To provide better care of the sick, investigation into their problems, and further education of those who serve. (18)

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF fights for the survival and development of the world’s most vulnerable children and protects their basic human rights. (18)

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. (18)

Teach for America: Growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education. (20)

Save the Children: To inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives. (20)

San Diego Zoo is a conservation, education, and recreation organization dedicated to the reproduction, protection, and exhibition of animals, plants, and their habitats. (20)

Ducks Unlimited conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people. (20)

Make-A-Wish: We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. (21)

American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. (21)

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: We mobilize people and resources to drive research for a cure and to address the challenges of everyone affected by MS. (21)

Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) works in nearly 70 countries providing medical aid to those most in need regardless of their race, religion, or political affiliation. (21)

Feeding America: To feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger. (22)

Susan G Komen for the Cure is fighting every minute of every day to finish what we started and achieve our vision of a world without breast cancer. (24)

Audubon: To conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. (24)

Mayo Clinic: To inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education and research. (24)

The Rotary Foundation: To enable Rotarians to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty. (24)

AARP: To enhance quality of life for all as we age. We lead positive social change and deliver value to members through information, advocacy and service. (25)

Boy Scouts of America: To prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law. (25)

NPR: To work in partnership with member stations to create a more informed public – one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures. (28)


What does this mean for you?

Is your mission statement longer than 20 words? Can you get it below 15? Below 10?  Design it to clearly communicate what you do in such a way that people can remember it and communicate this to others. If you can’t get a mission statement below 15 words, consider also creating a mission tagline (2-6 words) which people can more easily remember.

How the list was compiled

  • Mission statements were gathered for each of the top 100 nonprofits (based on a series of web, social, and transparency metrics) and then evaluated for content and length.
  • The top 50 were then selected for this list based on length and organized roughly from shortest to longest (based on the number of characters).
  • The number in parenthesis at the end of each line depicts the number of non-branded words included in their mission statement.
  • In order to standardize the list, we removed things like “[Brand’s] mission is” or “The mission statement of [Brand]” when it created redundancy.