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Industry Insights

Putting the mission into statements

Do you feel like writing a mission statement is, well…mission impossible?

Have you endured too many marathon committee meetings? Have you written countless drafts only to find a reason to revise it one more time? Perhaps you've made enemies over the inclusion or exclusion of a single word and still have nothing to show for it. Is it all worth it? In a word, YES!

The mission statement can be a powerful tool to align individuals to a common goal. It has the power to influence every decision an organization makes. Further, it can be the clearest articulation to both your employees and your market about what you do and why it matters.

So stop fighting. Put down your thesauruses. Take out a clean sheet of paper and write the following words across the top: "THIS IS NOT A COPYWRITING EXERCISE."

It's time to put the mission into your mission statement.

It's really unfortunate that many competent and well-intentioned organizations have mission statements that are vague, ambiguous, and uninspiring.

eg: "Our mission is to be an organization that provides solutions to our market while being profitable for our shareholders and providing a good place of employment for our staff."

Okay, I made that one up but it reflects many of the examples I regularly see.

On my daily drive to work I pass a building with a sign that says "ABC Co. A solutions provider" (the name has been changed to protect the unimaginative). "A solutions provider"? Really? There is a word for someone who will do anything for anyone for money and it's less than flattering.

So if a mission statement is so foundational to an organization's identity why do so many of them fail so miserably? We've found there are several reasons.

  1. Confusion about the terms "mission" and "vision"
  2. Internal rather than external focus
  3. Lack of courage to be different
  4. Inability to say "no" to opportunity
  5. Incompetence

The confusion surrounding the term "mission statement" is partially the result of vision and mission being used interchangeably. The word mission is better understood as purpose. Your reason for existing. The word vision on the other hand implies something visual; something you can see. Vision is the result(s) of your actions, while your mission/purpose should answer the "why" of your actions.

Try start your mission statement with the word "to." For example, "Our mission is to…
Start your vision statement with "We see…

Consider an example from NASA (circa 1960s):

Our mission is to further man's exploration of space.
We see a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

Armed with these definitions ask yourself:

  • Who are we? (What passions define us?)
  • What do we do? (Specifically. "Solutions" are not allowed.)
  • How do we do it? (Cheaper? Faster? Better? More fun?…)
  • Who do we do it for? (Who benefits?)
  • Why does it matter? (Do they even care?)

The last two questions are extremely important – they are also often the most difficult to answer. Your mission must be focused on the needs of others. The market doesn't owe you a successful organization (or a job for that matter). In short, It's not about you! Your customers, members or donors want to know what's in it for them. People are like that.

The difficulty is that you can't be all things to all people. So have the courage to take a position. To stand out. To be yourself. Sure, it will mean that a much smaller group of people will notice you and be attracted to you, but the upside is that you'll actually be noticed and attractive. I believe the art of determining an organization's mission is finding the balance between dreaming big enough to stretch the organization and being focused enough to be meaningful.

The language of your mission statement should close doors of opportunity. Because they may not be opportunities at all. They may be distractions that keep you from fulfilling your mission, reaching your goals and realizing your vision. It's difficult to say "no." Closing doors of opportunity encourages focus and increases depth.

Finally, if you find that your organization is just plain incompetent…RUN! No amount of creative writing is going to solve that problem. It will only mask the awful truth. That's lying. Don't do that.

We believe that sounding remarkable starts with being remarkable. So, before you begin writing your mission statement research your market, analyze areas of opportunity, reflect on your unique abilities and deepen your understanding of your mission. If you've done these things well the statement will practically write itself.

Make sure you have a clear mission and vision before building a website or designing a brochure or making any attempt to communicate.


  • Mission answers why your organization exists
  • Vision is what you see in the future
  • It's not about you
  • You can't be all things to all people
  • Closing doors can be a good thing
  • Flee from incompetence

Tips for writing your mission statement:

  • It can be long or short but it must be real
  • Use concrete language
  • Use appropriate tone
  • It should be forward looking
  • It should highlight differentiation
  • It should be broad enough to stretch the organization
  • It should be focused enough to be both meaningful and useful
  • Think strategy first, copywriting last

Written by Jason Bouwman, RGD

April 20, 2010