Why, When and How to Change Your Mission Statement

As a nonprofit organization, your mission statement is a valuable component of your purpose. A mission outlines exactly what your organization does and the individuals it serves. Not only does a mission statement represent your organization, but your organization should also represent the mission statement.

Of course, with any organization, programs, initiatives and missions can shift, as your purpose changes to reflect the current climate. Is it time for your nonprofit organization to reevaluate your mission statement? Today we explore the why, when and how of changing your mission statement.

1. Why?

Why should a nonprofit organization consider changing its mission statement? An organization’s mission statement is typically written with the public in mind and is geared toward motivating donors, inspiring volunteers and encouraging constituents. As time goes on, your clients may shift, your environment may shift or your purpose itself may shift. Therefore, your mission statement should shift too. For example, the March of Dimes was originally founded to serve polio victims; however, by 1979 the virus had been completely obliterated throughout the U.S. by the Salk vaccine. So the organization altered its mission to focus on preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

As we said in our article Nonprofit Marketing: How to Craft a Concise Mission Statement, “Your mission statement is never set in stone. It can (and probably will) morph, change and adapt to your growing organization.” Board, staff and volunteers from your organization should get in the habit of reviewing the mission statement every one to three years, or in times of major transition for the organization. This does not necessarily mean you have to change it that often, but a change should be considered.

Or from a different perspective, perhaps your original mission statement was not written properly. The Nonprofit Hub utilizes a checklist to distinguish a solid mission statement from one less effective. A good mission statement uses language your constituents use, is emotionally stirring and communicates your purpose through a single, powerful sentence. On the other hand, a bad mission statement uses jargon your constituents cannot understand, is logical and cold and rambles on through a drawn-out paragraph, yet still somehow misses the “why” in your purpose. If you recognize any of these attributes in your current statement, it might be time to review it and seek a change.

2. When?

Speaking of time… when is the perfect time to change your organization’s mission statement? Every few years or during big changes are good times to review, but when can you be sure now is the best time to reevaluate your mission? There are two ideal times to keep in mind to change the mission, including:

  • A change in programming. If your organization has added, removed or completely changed one or more of your programs, it could be the right time to change your mission statement too. A mission statement can also be expanded or limited, depending on the shift your organization makes. Perhaps you want more direct programming for a specific demographic, or you want to broaden your gaze to a wider range of clients. Whatever the changes in programming, a mission statement can also be changed to reflect them.
  • A change in resources. Your nonprofit’s resources can greatly determine the scope of your mission statement. For instance, the loss or gain of funding can have a significant impact in the community you work with. Or if some staff members have left or joined the team, that could also make a difference in where your nonprofit’s resources go. When resources change dramatically, it might be best to reevaluate your mission statement and see how resources can best be spent moving forward.

The when of changing your mission statement is just as important as the why, and can help guide you in deciding the best timing for mission shifts. Of course, how is this new mission statement put into place?

3. How?

The how is a critical component of changing your mission statement; for many nonprofits, it is not as simple as just rewording a sentence on your website. Depending on the significance of the change and where your mission is stated, legal issues may also result. If your nonprofit is a 501(c)(3) organization, your new mission statement must remain consistent with the tax-exempt purposes specified in the Internal Revenue Code. Once your nonprofit organization has drafted a new mission and ensured its consistency with tax-exempt purposes, your board of directors should formally approve the statement. Additionally, you should inform the IRS of your new mission when you file your annual return (Form 990).

Legalities aside, your nonprofit organization should also be mindful of how you inform your constituents on your mission statement change. Be purposeful in how you tell volunteers and donors, as your mission statement may grow or shrink your support base. Announce your new statement via your website, newsletter, email marketing or social media pages, and if appropriate, explain your reasoning behind the shift.

Be sure all of your messaging is consistent, and once the new mission statement is implemented, check everywhere it’s published to ensure the change is made across the board. Transparency and consistency are two keys to keeping your constituent base engaged and supportive during this transition.

Within any nonprofit organization, the environment, programming and resources constantly change; a mission statement should reflect this. While reevaluating and shifting your mission statement might seem like a daunting task, it is a vital component of keeping your organization alive and striving toward your ultimate goal. Look into the why, when and how of changing your mission statement and see how it can help you further impact the world.

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