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If your nonprofit is going to fulfill its purpose, your staff need to think and speak clearly and consistently about its mission.

The core of a nonprofit organization’s existence is its mission. Unlike for-profit businesses, even those that have an explicit mission, a nonprofit does not exist to turn a profit or enrich shareholders. Executing its mission is its raison d'être.

This fact should be the driving force behind everything a nonprofit does, from how its operations function to how its staff spend their time. It’s easy to get caught up in tangential projects and spend hours on causes that, yes, are worthwhile, but that are ultimately unrelated to the organization’s core mission.

But nonprofit staff can’t focus their efforts on furthering their mission if they don’t understand said mission. As a result, it is vitally important that this mission is clearly understood and clearly stated. And all that clarity is useless if it’s not coupled with consistency.

This may seem obvious, too obvious for organization staff and leadership to get caught up in. However, in my experience, far too many organizations’ missions are stated generally in boilerplate, leadership-sanctioned language. Then, when individual staffers get to thinking and speaking about the mission, they end up going their own way, and the definition of the mission loses all consistency.

I firmly believe that this inconsistency inevitably metastasizes throughout the organization. If your leadership and staff are thinking and speaking about your mission in an inconsistent manner, they will execute the mission inconsistently.

Here’s an example:

Let’s take an organization whose mission is to serve poor children in New York City through financial aid. This mission statement is clear and simple: serve poor children in NYC by helping them purchase the things they need that they don’t have money for.

However, the president of the organization tends to state the mission as “serving underprivileged people in the greater New York area.”

Generally speaking, the latter mission statement covers the prior. However, in this statement, “children” have become “people,” a specific geographic location has become vague, we’ve swapped “poor” for “underprivileged,” and we’ve erased financial aid.

Going off the president’s version, the organization might serve people who are seen as oppressed and underprivileged but aren’t actually poor. Rather than providing, say, school supplies to poor children in NYC, it might now advocate for policies that impact traditionally oppressed groups such as African Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, etc., in North Jersey.

You may also have a program director who is passionate about helping poor adults get jobs and thus states the mission as helping poor people in New York get back on their feet. It’s adjacent to the mission—adults with stable jobs are better able to care for children—but not the core. Job or interview training is not financial assistance and, again, children are gone.

To be clear, this is not a question of which mission is more just or more necessary; it’s about what your organization actually does. This can and will be shaped by how you and your staff talk and think about your mission.

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that everyone at your organization speaks about your mission in the same way. Here are a few ways to make sure your messaging stays consistent.

You should have one clear mission statement and every member of your staff should have it memorized. No riffing, no adapting, no saying it in their own words. There is one mission statement. To be clear: staff should be capable of speaking to your mission in a variety of ways so they’re not solely rattling off the mission statement, but the statement itself should never be changed.

A defined elevator pitch will also enable your employees to speak uniformly about the problem you have set out to solve and exactly how your organization is working to solve it. This pitch will not be quite as set in stone as the mission statement, but you should have one written version that is always accessible to fundraisers, marketers, and program directors.

Furthermore, the mission statement should be incorporated into all internal and external copy. It should be restated time and again, so staff, donors, and partner organizations all know exactly what you do. The elevator pitch should then inform the collateral, and, in turn, the collateral will reinforce the messaging for staff. Consistency springs eternal in the nonprofit heart.

Finally, return to these statements and documents as part of annual retreats or planning meetings. Keep recounting your mission. After all, this is why each one of you is at the nonprofit: to advance the mission. It should be the deciding factor for programmatic choices, grant requests, etc.

For every one of these decisions, begin by asking yourself: Does it advance our stated mission?

To reiterate my initial point: your nonprofit’s mission is the reason it exists (and the reason your donors give). The best thing you can do further your mission is to communicate it clearly and consistently to staff, setting you up to execute it well. If you stay on message, you will stay on mission.

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