Gold Standards for a Strategic Mission Focused Nonprofit

Gold Standards for a Strategic Mission Focused Nonprofit
By Eugene Fram

The following is Google’s mission statement:

To organize the world’s information and make it universally assessable and useful.

This twelve-word expression of purpose should serve as a shining example to nonprofit boards that wrestle with the development of their own mission statements. Typically the process takes huge amounts of time as boards struggle to accommodate a wide range of viewpoints.* Too often the resulting statements tend to be complex and hard to understand.

Here are some approaches that are of fundamental importance to building strategic strength in a mission-focused nonprofit:

Identify Your Organization’s Mission- To paraphrase the late management consultant and author, Peter Drucker, a few critical questions about the organization need to be answered. Who benefits from our services or products? Who would miss our organization if it no longer existed? How should our mission change or evolve? Good mission statements are short, easy to remember and meaningful to stakeholders both internally and externally. In some cases, an outside copywriter is helpful in reviewing a board’s founding statement, adapting and tightening the language and finally, testing its ability to resonate with diverse constituencies.

Develop Vision and Values that are concomitant with the approved mission statement and properly support it.

Vision is the projection of what the organization wants to be in the future, often now about a five-year period for nonprofits, depending on the state of the economy. It should be both aspirational and inspirational in terms of its ability to motivate growth and maintain stability.

Vision must be stated in quantitative outcomes using hard data from reports from accounting, membership or program statistics. But emphasis also needs to be directed to the qualitative data developed through imperfect metrics.** These data are often ignored because they are too difficult and/or costly to develop. Their impacts would include assessments on enhanced quality of life, community commitment, successful advocacy, and sustainability, all of which promote the strategic human-interpersonal assets that are so important to many nonprofits.

Values comprise the core culture to which the organization’s stakeholders subscribe. They should describe the behaviors of board, management and staff, and the overall character of the organization. For example: “Providing the highest quality service, based on the latest modalities.” “Supporting staff members to remain current in their fields of expertise.” “Continuing to be alert to our community and clients needs.”

Get a Fix on the Financials – Bob Reich, a Sacramento California consultant, suggests in, a blog post (May 23, 2013), the following use of funds for a mission driven NFP:

A not-for-profit must bring enough money to cover expenses, or it will not survive. If it brings in excess revenues over expenses, it can expand services and programs (a GOOD thing), save the funds for a capital expense that is needed (equipment, buildings, etc.), or build an endowment or reserve fund to provide ongoing income when times are lean (as a “business” does.)

This statement clearly defines the financial difference between FP and a NFP, an often-debated issue in the literature. It allows the nonprofit to use business practices in a socially useful value format. However, it does not equate a planned or unplanned surplus with profit. It provides a value position for mission focused nonprofits to maintain service quality when costs must be reduced.

Stay on Message– Assuming that after the deliberations, the arguments, the careful crafting of words, consensus has been reached and the above ideology is in place. The implementation then begins; the work of the board can now readily be assessed. Every proposed action and even current performance should be measured by those standards. Where there is disagreement about the congruency, differences need to be resolved or the mission modified.

Google’s mission statement is a wonder. But a mission statement is only a first step in the ongoing process of review that must shape all aspects of strategic decision-making. Without question, nonprofits need to seek to achieve the above “gold standards” to pave the road to robust success!

* Obviously, staff and other stakeholders also need to be involved along with the board.
** See: http://bit.ly/OvF4ri

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