I’ve been thinking about mission statements. I doubt that a good mission statement is the determining factor between success and lack thereof. But if your mission statement simply describes what you do, I want to encourage you to think about rewriting it.
And now you’re thinking, “Yeah, right, we’re a little too busy saving lives to dither about our mission statement.” Or maybe you’re checking the “About Us” section of your website because you can’t remember what your mission statement is. Don’t miss the inherent power of a good mission statement. Sure, a good mission statement helps your community and especially your stakeholders to “get” what you’re about, and hopefully that sets the stage for them to donate their time, money and support. (As Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”) But in my opinion, that’s not even the most powerful use of a good mission statement.
The power in a good mission statement is its ability to guide you.
When you and your board develop and approve the strategic plan and the annual budget, you should be checking these against your mission statement and asking, “Are these plans true to our fundamental purpose? Is this the best possible use of funds to fulfill our mission?”
For you and your staff, a good mission statement guides your thinking about your work every day. Everything you do should be in keeping with your mission statement—and not only in keeping with, but continually striving to do the best you can by the mission statement. And THAT is the real power in a mission statement—because it leads to organizational innovation and reinvention.
Let’s look at two different fictional organizations’ approach to mission statements: WhatWeDo Humane Society’s mission is to provide shelter and find loving homes for animals. BigPicture Humane Society’s mission is to prevent cruelty and promote kindness. And at BigPicture HS, the ED has given the staff a clear directive to always strive to achieve that mission to the best of their ability.
Fernanda walks into WhatWeDo HS with a box of kittens she found under her porch. A staff person accepts the box of kittens, thanks Fernanda for looking out for the little ones and tells her that the HS will try to find homes for them. This is perfectly in keeping with the WhatWeDo mission.
But what if Fernanda brings that box of kittens to BigPicture HS? At BigPicture HS, the staff person who takes care of Fernanda sees that their intake room is busting at the gills. She turns to her manager and foster care coordinator, and together they decide to see if they can enlist Fernanda as a foster home for these kittens. This is staff members innovating to do better by the mission.
Innovation and reinvention! You don’t want a mission statement that simply describes what you do, because the world isn’t standing still. You want a mission statement that incorporates your values and your aspirations… so that what you “do” can keep pace with what you can achieve for animals and your community.
"You don’t want a mission statement that simply describes what you do, because the world isn’t standing still."
Four nice examples to whet your appetite:
Greater Birmingham Humane Society: …to promote the humane treatment of people and animals through education, advocacy and services
Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation: People Rescuing Animals…Animals Rescuing People.
Humane Society of North Texas: …to act as an advocate on behalf of all animals and to ensure their legal, moral and ethical consideration and protection
Wisconsin Humane Society: …to build a community where people value animals and treat them with respect and kindness
Just like the examples above, a good mission statement should not only go well beyond what you currently do, but it should guide and inspire you, your staff and your board to do the same.
Ready to start re-writing? BoardSource has a nice article, complete with examples, on Tips for Developing a Mission Statement. And please share your agency’s mission statement, and how you use it, in the comments.
Bert Troughton, MSW
ASPCA Senior Vice President, Animal Health Services
Bert Troughton joined the ASPCA in 2003 after 9 years as CEO of Monadnock Humane Society in New Hampshire and 10 years as a clinical social worker in community mental health. Past president of both the New Hampshire and New England Federations of Humane Societies, Troughton is a guest blogger on human dynamics in animal welfare and the author of the chapter on working with adopters in Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff.
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