If your nonprofit was a book, your mission statement would be the blurb on the back cover. It tells stakeholders and potential supporters everything they need to know about who you serve, what you want to accomplish and why it matters to them.
If you’ve undertaken the heroic task of crafting a statement that’s focused, compelling and well-written, the last thing you’re probably eager to do is change it! That said, there are circumstances when tweaking—or even fully revising—your mission statement is the right decision, and one that’ll pay off in the long run in terms of success and donor engagement. So let’s talk about those times, and how to change your “blurb” without falling off the proverbial best-seller list.
1. Why would we need to change our mission statement?
Although your mission statement lives statically in the land of your marketing materials, your organization is constantly growing, evolving and shifting. Sometimes, even your starting goals and priorities are subject to change. This means your mission statement needs to be adaptable, too.
For example, did you know the March of Dimes was originally founded to serve polio victims? In 1979, when the virus had been obliterated in the U.S. by the Salk vaccine, the organization changed its mission to focus on birth defect prevention, premature birth and infant mortality.
As we stated in our earlier blog post 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.”
2. How often should we change our nonprofit’s mission statement?
Like most things in life, this really depends. Some nonprofits will never need to change their mission statement, as “who they are” will largely stay the same over time. On the other hand, your organization may need to revise its mission statement next week, then again in a year or two, to reflect evolution.
Simply being aware of your mission statement at all times is crucial, since it’s essentially a living synopsis of your organization by which people will judge you. We recommend that board members, personnel and even volunteers pitch in and deep-dive on your mission statement every year (and obviously, during times of major transition). Not with an eye to change things, but to at least see whether it reflects your org in the mirror.
Signs you have a strong mission statement.
Maybe your original mission statement never really “clicked” from the get-go—perhaps due to being rushed, poorly written or just an afterthought altogether. If that’s your sneaking suspicion, but you aren’t sure if you’re just overthinking, check out Nonprofit Hub’s checklist for identifying solid mission statements.
A good mission statement, at its core, should do three things: 1) use language your constituents use 2) be emotionally stirring and 3) communicate your purpose through a single, powerful sentence. Bad mission statements, on the other hand, use jargon your constituents can’t understand, are too cold and logical or somehow fail to articulate the “why” in your purpose. If you recognize any of these attributes in your current statement, it might be time to make a change.
3. What events should definitely trigger a rewrite?
If evaluating your mission statement periodically is a smart idea, then are there specific circumstances that should always get your copywriter’s fingers twitching? Here are a few we think are worth your attention:
- After or during a change in programming. If your organization adds, subtracts or changes significant programs and service offerings, it might be a good idea to revisit your mission statement, too.
- When your resources have changed. Your nonprofit mission statement should, to a degree that is reasonable based on timing, accurately reflect your organization’s scope and abilities. If not, you risk making promises too big to keep. If you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, for example, it may be better to scale back than to promote overly grand ambitions.
- You’re rebranding. While it’s not always the case, sometimes a rebrand is a great excuse to reinvent or refresh “the blurb on the back of the cover” of your organization. Done thoughtfully and carefully, it might even give your marketing a boost.
Now, let’s talk about tips for how to put your new mission statement into practice.
Changing your nonprofit’s mission statement: other things to consider.
In many cases, producing a new mission statement isn’t as easy as just rewording a sentence on your website and marketing materials. Depending on the scale of the change and where your mission is stated, there could even be legal ramifications to consider. Namely, if your nonprofit is a 501(c)(3) organization, your new mission statement must remain consistent with tax-exempt requirements specified in the Internal Revenue Code. Once your org has drafted a new statement and ensured its consistency for tax-exempt purposes, you’ll also need to ensure your board of directors will formally sign off. Additionally, you’ll need to inform the IRS of your new mission when you file your annual return (Form 990).
Legalities aside, it’s also important to be conscientious about debuting your new mission statement to the public and your constituents. Be ready to field questions, address criticisms or even navigate a few naysayers (the only thing in life as certain as change is how much people fear it). Of course, everything might go smoothly, too. You never can tell! We recommend formally announcing the change via your website, newsletter, a press release, email marketing and/or social media pages. If you deem it appropriate, clearly explain your reasoning behind the shift and how it will benefit the people you’re working to serve.
Out with the old, in with the new.
Then—and this is important—make sure your new messaging replaces outdated copy anywhere it can possibly hide: You don’t want less-than-fresh materials to create conflicting marketing messages and confuse your audience. This includes your website above all, which should probably be the first thing you update to reflect the “new you.” Remember, your website is still the most important source of information about your organization for most donors, including Millennials.
As sure as the seasons change, so will your nonprofit’s priorities, goals and target audiences—sometimes by a little, and sometimes by enough to make you almost unrecognizable. Don’t be afraid to let your mission statement accurately reflect the organization you are today, as well as who you strive to be in the future. If done conscientiously, your audience and supporters will appreciate your commitment to staying on the pulse of the issues, being transparent and showing adaptability. Approach changing your mission statement from a marketing and PR perspective, so you can avoid confusing your audience or creating conflicting marketing messages by mistake. Just remember—you got this.
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