Yes, those slogans mean something: putting advocacy in your mission statement

Did you know that there’s a website with nothing but sample mission statements? Seriously.

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:

  • “Championing the healthy development of children by supporting parents and families and promoting quality early education” (how do you support families and get high-quality early education without advocacy?)
  • “Strengthening communities and empowering families through educational, social, and economic opportunities” (empowering is there, and it’s pretty obvious that none of those opportunities are going to magically appear, without policy infrastructure)
  • “Improve the quality of life for individuals in the Latino communities of greater Kansas City” (in today’s climate, in particular, that’s going to require entering some policy debates!)
  • “Improve the health of the individuals and communities we serve, especially those who are poor or vulnerable” (um, advocacy, anyone?)
  • “Lessen the ill effects of sexual assault and abuse through prevention, education, treatment, intervention and advocacy” (HURRAY! It’s there!)
  • “Mental Health America of the Heartland is dedicated to promoting the mental health of the community, and improving the quality of life of persons with mental illness, through advocacy, education, and support” (I’m on a roll now!)

    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.

  • One response to “Yes, those slogans mean something: putting advocacy in your mission statement

    1. Pingback: The Power of One | Classroom to Capitol

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