Understanding the key role Mission, Vision, and Values play in moving an organization forward.

These elements are probably some of the most important in your organization, yet they are often the most overlooked. They help guide decision-making, budgeting, and recruiting, and can make goal setting more effective. But unfortunately, in far too many organizations, they are rarely mentioned. These are your Foundational Documents  yet most staff and volunteers have never even heard them.

How is it that these guiding principles can have such importance yet are so infrequently referenced or followed? It may be with the way they were crafted, written, and used.

Most Mission, Vision, and Values statements were put together by a select few without input and buy-in from the rest of the organization. They are often written in grandiose, flowery, meaningless language, that feels more like mom-and-apple-pie, than being a compelling call to action. 

Because of this, many people don’t know them, don’t understand them, or don’t even think of them. If it seems like your agency is drifting, not making any significant impact, or having challenges recruiting and retaining high value staff and board members, lack of strong, clear Mission, Vision, and Values may be the root cause. Many agencies miss out on a huge opportunity by not leveraging their Foundational Documents for good.

Without a clear understanding of what the agency stands for, who it is trying to help and how it will conduct itself, most agencies will struggle to carve out their unique place in the community. These three documents–if developed and used properly–can help an organization create laser focus, move forward towards their goals, and make a more significant impact..

But first, let’s get clear on what Mission, Vision, and Values really are.

Vision: An aspirational, high level statement of what your organization would like to achieve/an audacious statement of what you’d like the future to look like.

  • An example: “To eliminate hunger in your county.”

Mission: Why your organization exists/Your organization’s role in achieving your Vision

  • An example: “To provide healthy appropriate food to everyone in need living in our community.”

Values: How your organization will conduct itself; the ground rules for operating

Sometimes, these values can be accompanied by phrases describing what it looks like when these values are present.

  • Example 1: “We value families and communities, their inherent strengths, their ability to grow, be resilient and find solutions to challenges.
  • Example 2:-We value staff professionalism, ethical service delivery and programs that reflect our compassion for people.
  • Example 3: We believe in effectively managing the contributions of our donors and funders through maintaining sound fiscal policies while striving for excellence.
  • Example 4: -Integrity
  • Example 4: -Respect
  • Example 4: -Teamwork
  • Example 4: -Adaptability
  • Example 4: -Excellence

Armed with these definitions, we can now discover how and why these concepts matter in your agency.

First, these three pillars provide a high level theme for virtually everything the agency stands for and does. They provide everyone with a common purpose, language, and direction. They are the foundation upon which everything rests. You might think of these as a place from which everything cascades. They impact everything at the agency.

Because of this, they should be developed, reviewed and understood by as wide a group of stakeholders as possible — this should include leadership, board members, staff, volunteers, and even donors — anyone that plays a role in helping the organization move forward. Unless everyone understands the organization’s purpose, you run the real risk of people, departments and activities running counter to each other, which will minimize your impact, and could cause internal strife and challenges.

These documents are key to:

  • developing clear consistent communication, both internally and externally
  • priority setting
  • budget setting
  • marketing and branding
  • recruitment of the right staff, volunteers and board members
  • clear and simplified decision-making

Since most nonprofit agencies are experiencing funding stress, a clear set of foundational documents will help ensure the right decisions are being made on how resources should be deployed and spent.

Strong Mission, Vision, and Values Statements will help insure proper alignment of every resource the agency has, thus insuring peek efficiency  and operational excellence. 

Most people—and especially millennials—are looking for a cause to get behind, to make a difference. They will not waste their time trying to serve at an agency that is unclear on its purpose.

If an agency wants to make progress on its goals and not just repeat the same year’s activity over and over, it needs a set of Foundational Documents everyone can use to stay focused, to keep the organization moving forward, in the best direction, towards achieving its Mission.

Studies in the for-profit world have shown that nearly 50% of companies that fail in the first five years, do so because their people do not understand the Mission, Vision, and Values in a Strategic Plan or see how their role supports the agency’s purpose.

Can anyone doubt the importance of leading a nonprofit successfully without well-understood Mission, Vision, and, Values Statements?

Developing a strong Mission, clear Vision, and powerful list of Values, is often done as a part of Strategic Planning. You can download starter documents, and a Strategic Planning Template, to begin your planning here.