And, of course, there are many toolkits to help organizations craft mission statements.
And who among us has had the guaranteed-stimulating experience of writing a mission statement by committee (preferably a committee whose membership keeps changing, with the entire process dragged out over months)?
As the above makes abundantly clear, I’m no expert in crafting organizational mission statements. Our family doesn’t have one. And I’m not sure that I can remember the mission statements for the organizations where I’ve worked, even the ones that made me memorize them at the time.
But I do think they matter, because they set the tone for how the organization sees itself, how the leadership will hold people accountable, and how an entity defines itself, especially in comparison to others.
A study conducted by an organization I’ve done some work for, the Sunflower Foundation, found that only 40% of health-related nonprofit organizations believe their mission calls for public policy participation.
I bet you can guess that I think the other 60% are wrong–it’s hard to imagine any organization dedicated to improving health care and health status that doesn’t have a vested interest, if not a compelling moral obligation, to engage in policy advocacy.
But sometimes it’s best to make things explicit.
So what if nonprofit organizations’ mission statements specifically called for advocacy? We wouldn’t even always have to use that term; we could talk about “underlying conditions”, “policy change”, even “empowerment”, but mission statements that include language like this would reorient our organizations towards more structural work and give us the license, if not the mandate, to include advocacy among our strategies.
Because, really, most of the time we have mission statements that cannot possibly be achieved through programming alone. Here are a sampling from my home community:
I don’t mean to suggest that the organizations without advocacy in their mission statements are ignoring this part of their community responsibility, or even that those with references to advocacy are necessarily doing it effectively.
But it matters what we pay attention to, and what we talk about.
And, all things being equal, I’d like to be able to point to an organization’s mission statement to make my case for including advocacy, or to defend advocacy actions that we have to take.
We pay so much attention, sometimes, to the precise wording, or even the font, of those phrases that we then often forget.
But they can mean something, and say something, important, about who we are, what we aim to do, and the stand that we’ll make alongside those we serve in order to get there.