What Is a Mission Statement?
An organization’s mission statement describes clearly and concisely why the organization exists – its purpose. The mission statement defines what is important to the organization and guides the organization’s decisions and activities.
The mission statement answers three (or sometimes four) basic questions about the organization:
1. Whom does the organization serve?
2. What does the organization do?
3. Why does the organization do it?
4. [Optional] How does the organization do it?
This guide provides direction for developing a mission statement for any type of organization and uses an imaginary health communication network, the Africa Network of Social and Behavior Change Communication Practitioners (SBCCAf.Net), to illustrate the steps.
|How is a Mission different from a Vision?Both guide an organization’s direction. However, while a Vision describes what it would like to see in the future as a result of ifs efforts; the Mission explains why the organization exists.|
Why Should a Health Communication Organization Write a Mission Statement?
The mission statement allows everyone in an organization to clearly understand why they are doing their work. An organization’s mission also guides its operational plans and describes the organization to potential funders, clients and beneficiaries.
Who Should Develop a Mission Statement?
The board of directors, managers and their teams should craft the mission statement together.
When Should a Mission Statement Be Developed?
Ideally, the organization should develop a mission statement when it first forms. The mission statement should be reviewed during strategic planning sessions and updated every few years or as needed.
After completing the activities in this guide, the planning team will be able to:
- Clearly describe the organization’s purpose, clientele and core activities.
- Develop a concise mission statement.
Estimated Time Needed
A mission statement meeting or workshop might take one to four hours, depending on whether or not the organization already has a mission statement. Stakeholder review and finalization of the statement can require several days to several weeks.
Step 1: Gather Information, Form a Planning Team and Organize a Meeting
Agree on the membership of a planning team. Usually, the planning team will include representation from the board of directors, senior management and staff of the organization. Sometimes, representatives from the organization’s beneficiaries are also members. Invite the planning team to a half-day meeting to review and revise or develop a new mission statement.
Prior to the meeting, collect a copy of the organization’s mission statement, if there is one, as well as information about the organization’s clients, products and services, and history. Make copies of the Mission Statement Worksheet in this guide. Prepare an agenda that allows time for the group to discuss each of the four basic questions.
Step 2: Define Whom the Organization Serves
Since no organization is large enough to meet the diverse needs of everyone, the planning team should specify who its priority beneficiaries are by answering the question, “Whom does this organization serve?” To answer this broad question, ask the three more narrow questions below. List the responses in the Mission Statement Worksheet.
|Whom does the organization serve?||SBCCAf.Net Example|
|a. To whom does the organization offer its products and services?b. What are the characteristics of the target population or market?c. Where is the target population or market located?||a. Health and development communication practitionersb. Well educated; working for government or non-governmental organizations; most are Africanc. Africa|
Step 3: Clarify What the Organization Does
Now the team needs to describe the purpose of the organization: what it does or, if it is a new organization, what it will do. Clearly identify the needs of the populations served and specify what products and services the organization offers to address those needs. Add them to the Worksheet.
|What does/will the organization do?||SBCCAf.Net example|
|a. What products and services does the organization offer?b. What do its beneficiaries or clients need and want?c. How well do its current products and services meet the needs and desires of its clients or beneficiaries?||a. Annual award for excellence in health communication, SBCC training program and regional SBCC conferencesb. Tools and assistance to improve the quality and effectiveness of the SBCC work they doc. They match well|
Step 4: Explain Why the Organization Does What it Does
Next answer the question, “Why do we do what we do?” The answer generally describes a response to a broad social problem. It also provides a basis for decisions concerning what the organization does moving forward. Complete this section of the Worksheet.
|Why does the organization do its work?||SBCCAf.Net example|
|a. What are the needs and desires of the organization’s clients or beneficiaries?b. Why is this important?||a. To more effectively improve health practicesb. Improved health practices contribute to the health and development of Africa|
Step 5: Describe How the Organization Delivers Products and Services
In this optional step, define the strategies, means and resources by which the organization delivers services and meets the needs of its clients or beneficiaries. Look at organizations that offer similar services and products for the same clients to determine how products and services need to differ from those of competitors. Summarize the answers to the following questions in the Worksheet.
|How does the organization do its work?||SBCCAf.Net example|
|a. What strategies will be employed to provide the right products and services to clients/beneficiaries?b. Can the strategies be implemented, given the context and available resources?||a. Increasing opportunities for experience sharing; documenting processes, tools, lessons learnedb. SBCCAf.Net can implement these strategies through internet, email and in-person meetings|
Step 6: Write the Mission Statement
Compose a smaller team—one or two people who are good writers—to pull together the deliberations into a one or two sentence mission statement. Articulate the “who,” “what,” “why” and “how” of the organization in a way that makes it stand out as unique among competitors.
Get feedback from everyone who participated in its development to ensure the statement reflects a common understanding. Then share it with staff and board members, those who are served by the organization, and partners to get feedback. Finalize and share the statement with the board, staff and public.
A well-framed mission statement is the foundation of a well-functioning and inspired SBCC organization. It will guide the organization’s work over the long term, motivate its staff and attract funders.
Here are two examples of mission statements from actual SBCC organizations:
- Population Services International (PSI) makes it easier for people in the developing world [the Who] to lead healthier lives and plan families they desire [the Why] by marketing affordable products and services [the What].
- Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG) strives to improve the quality of life [the Why] of all Ugandans [the Who] by providing essential, superior and affordable health care solutions [the What], using a combination of social marketing and innovative campaign approaches [the How].
Using the SBCCAf.Net example, the finalized mission statement would be:
|SBCCAf.Net contributes to the health and development of Africa [the Why] by improving SBCC effectiveness [the What] through training, networking and knowledge management [the How] among practitioners working in Africa [the Who].|
Tips & Recommendations
- After answering the mission questions as a group, let one or two individuals draft and redraft the wording for the full group to respond to. Groups are good at many things but writing is not one of them.
- Avoid rushing the process. Provide time to reflect on the information you gather, to write an initial draft, to allow key participants to read it, and to make changes.
- Avoid using jargon that only professionals will understand. Remember that the mission statement is a marketing tool.
- Use active, not passive voice (active: Wyz helps children live longer; passive: helping children live longer is the goal of Wyz.)
- Focus the organization’s mission statement on the people it serves, rather than on the organization itself.
- Mission statements should articulate commonly held ideas. There needs to be broad consensus on the answers to the three or four basic questions that define the mission statement.
- Good mission statements are short and state the obvious. The statement’s length and complexity depend on what the organization wants to do, but it should be brief enough for members of the organization, its funders and beneficiaries to remember.
Resources and References
- Albrecht, Karl. The Northbound Train: Finding the Purpose, Setting the Direction, Shaping the Destiny of Your Organization. New York: AMACOM, 1994.
- Bennis, Warren G., and Burt Nanus. 1986. Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper Business, 1997.
- Covey, Stephen R. 2004. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic, 151, 152–54. New York: Free Press, 2004.
- Helfenbein, Saul, Sara Seims, and Deborah Ruhe. “Learning to Think Strategically.” The Family Planning Manager (Boston) vol. 3, no. 1, 1994.
- Seltzer, Judith B., Elizabeth Lewis, Fiona Nauseda, and Stephen Redding. “Business Planning to Transform Your Organization.” The Manager (Boston) vol. 12, no. 3, 2003,
- Management Sciences for Health. Health Systems in Action. Chapter 4: Planning the Work and Working with the Plan.
- Idealist, http://www.idealist.org/info/Nonprofits/Gov1.
Banner Photo: © 2002 Center for Communication Programs, Courtesy of Photoshare