publication date: Jul 3, 2012
author/source: Fraser Green
Many of us in the charitable sector are either ignorant or
lazy when it comes to defining and articulating our vision and our mission
statements. We mix them up, speak in jargon - and utterly fail to clarify the
importance of our cause and the work we do.
Here's what I mean
Let me share an example with you. My wife works for the United Way here in Ottawa. Last night
she attended the annual general meeting of a social service agency that works
with the homeless. She had my Jeep yesterday, and when I got in it to drive to
work this morning, the flyer for the event was on the passenger seat.
Being the curious type, I picked up the flyer and had a look
My reaction was a big "UGH! - there's another botched job."
The flyer highlighted the vision and mission statements of
the agency. It read,
Our VISION is
to provide leadership and support to end homelessness.
Our MISSION is
to offer permanent housing and supports to assist people at risk of
homelessness live independently and enrich their lives.
Let's break this down and see how this agency got it wrong.
What is vision? Put most simply, it's a description of the
world when your cause is cured. The cause here is ending homelessness.
Therefore, this organization's vision is simply a descriptive statement of what
that world looks like.
Providing leadership and support (as they've articulated)
has nothing at all to do with vision. This organization is forcing its presence
into a vision statement where the organization just doesn't belong. Added to
that, I think that the phrase "leadership and support" is pretty vacuous and
close to meaningless.
All in all, this vision statement is terrible.
Maybe they could say it this way:
Our VISION is a
city where everyone - no matter what their means or circumstance - has a safe,
warm place to call home.
In my mind at least, this statement describes the outcome of
the work. Simple, isn't it?
While the vision describes
the world where the problem no longer exists, the mission defines the work the organization does to achieve the vision.
If we look at the original mission statement, we find the
phrase "live independently and enrich their lives." This is, in fact, more
visionary than mission-based. Again, they've confused the purposes of vision
and mission statements.
I'd prefer this organization's mission statement to read
more like this:
Our MISSION is
to provide permanent, affordable housing to those at risk of homelessness. Furthermore,
we offer support programs that help our clients acquire the skills required for
truly independent living.
Four steps to sort out vision and mission
- This month's tip is really a
four-point checklist for getting your vision and mission straight. Here goes:
your vision statement describe the world when your cause has been accomplished?
The vision statement paints a picture of the world. There is no action in this
your vision statement make any mention of your organization - or the work you
do? If it does, take it out! Your organization has no place in vision.
your mission define the work you do? (It should use active language.)
your mission statement describes outcomes, take them out! (Outcomes are
Why not run your organization's
vision and mission statements against this checklist and see how they fare? I'd
love to hear what you find!
P.S. I'll add one final thought.
To me, superb vision statements are inspiring. (Martin Luther King Jr.
's I Have a
speech is a superb example of this.) Superb mission statements are
motivational. Someone should read your mission statement and want to sign up as
a donor or volunteer on the spot.
Fraser Green is principal and chief
strategist at Good Works, a consulting firm that works with Canadian
charities to engage donors at a truly human level and build donor loyalty and
commitment. Fraser welcomes your ideas, comments and criticisms about this tip.
Please email him with your reactions