Last month we mentioned the importance of making sure your volunteer program is meeting the goals of the mission statement. This reminded us of how important it was to have a good statement as a foundation to build upon. In this article we’re going to step back and look at the mission statement a little more in depth.

With that in mind, can you explain your organization’s mission? At some agencies, you’d be surprised at how many employees, volunteers, clients, and even board members can’t. Of course, no one should be expected to memorize the whole passage, but it’s key that everyone has a general idea of the organization’s purpose.

Vision or Mission?

For starters, we’ll discuss the difference between a vision and a mission statement. Unfortunately, the two often get mistaken for one another. However, they definitely have two different purposes. Simply put, a mission statement explains what your organization is and what it will achieve based on quantifiable results. Vision, on the other hand, explains the hopes and aspirations you have for the agency. The vision statement is often more “flowery” and less specific.

A great example from the business world that differentiates the two is CVS Pharmacy’s statements. From their website:

Our Vision

We strive to improve the quality of human life.

Our Mission

We provide expert care and innovative solutions in pharmacy and health care that are effective and easy for our customers.

As you can see, these two descriptions have very different purposes. The mission statement identifies exactly what industry the company will focus on and how it plans to impact that sector. The vision statement is about the greater good the company is hoping to achieve. The fact that they are both succinct is an added bonus and adds to the clarity.

If your organization already has a mission statement, it’s never too late to take a closer look to make sure it is explicit. Many groups choose to bring a lot of elements into their statements, and that’s fine. Some have pieces about their core values, beliefs, and culture mixed throughout, but in the end a good statement always makes its way to exactly what the company’s purpose is.

What if My Organization Doesn’t Have a Mission Statement?

It’s not uncommon for a small non-profit to quickly sprout up as a loosely associated group with a common interest. The next thing you know, everyone is busy helping with a cause, but no one took the time to write an actual mission statement. However, as your organization grows, a mission statement becomes crucial. Luckily, if you’re up to the task, there is help. has a gigantic database of real mission statements listed by industry. There’s even a section for non-profits, schools, and churches that can be used as a guide.

When crafting your statement, watch out for pitfalls. In her article, “How to Write a Mission Statement that Isn’t Dumb,” Nancy Lubmin warns of the tendency of non-profits to use “warm” and “fuzzy” language that strays from any actual goal. Her suggestion: simply stay on point and leave any motivational language out of this statement. So whether your goal is to serve your community or serve nonprofits with volunteer management software (like us), keep your mission statement simple and to the point.

Still, if while working on your mission statement you’re flooded with inspirational prose, don’t throw those words away. There’s always the vision statement to construct. Stay tuned… more on vision statements next month!