Should Your Nonprofit Mission Statement Be Unique?

The other night I was at a board meeting where someone was praising the founding documents of the education foundation of which we are both board members. She was impressed that language for this educational foundation could remain current in a world with cataclysmic shifts in educational focus since the nonprofit’s inception twenty-five years ago. The current moves toward technology, a United States-wide core curriculum and an understanding of the necessary skills for a successful child in today’s climate were unimaginable 25 years ago. Yet, the mission to help the educational system still rings true.

Why? Because it is specific enough to give focus to the organization but general enough to stand the test of time.

Doesn’t a nonprofit mission statement have to be unique?
Often, during mission statement generating sessions, someone looks at the working mission statement and says, “wait, that could be us, but that could also be Nonprofit X or Y too. It’s not specific enough.”

That is a legitimate concern if the organization is truly a duplicate of another nonprofit but that is rarely the case. If two organizations serve the same population by serving in similar ways they should consider merging to conserve resources and be able to provide greater breadth and depth of services. But simply because a nonprofit mission statement is similar, does not mean the organizations are too similar to coexist.

Consider disaster relief. When a natural disaster causes massive destruction and crisis in a community, a number of national and international agencies step up to alleviate the immediate needs. Common names like the Red Cross, UNICEF or the International Rescue Committee may pop to mind, but there are many other substantial organizations that provide aid.

If we look at the home page of the IRC they state, “The International Rescue Committee (IRC) responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives.” While it is unclear if that is their official mission statement, it is clear that statement could represent a number of organizations. Does it make the IRC less valuable to the world? The millions who receive aid around the world would definitely not think that is the case. And the way in which the IRC responds is not the same as other organizations. Their distinctive vision, values and philosophy must all be considered.

When we consider the IRC statement again, you can see that it is general enough to remain relevant for many years, but allows the nonprofit to shift with the tides.

Regular reviews of their mission, vision and values will consider whether philosophies are still relevant, but this is a very different process than reinventing a mission every few years. And, a much wiser strategy for organizations who plan to serve for many years to come.