Nonprofit Mission Statements vs. Vision Statements


Mission statements and vision statements are often confused for one another and therefore used interchangeably. Here we dive into what they are, why they are different, why that difference is important, and why you should have both.

First, Why is This Distinction Important?

The importance of both mission and vision statements starts with the “Why.” In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek shares his theory of the Golden Circle: Every person knows what they do; some people know how they do it. But few people know why they do it.  Yet the “Why” is the purpose and the driving factor of our work. All too often we start with the outer circle of “What. Instead, we need to start from the center and move outwards with regards to our mission and vision statements. Explain why you want to do what you do, then how you will do it, and finally what end goal you are aiming to achieve.
The other thought leader to look at for mission and vision is Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Beyond Entrepreneurship. He defines the different layers that are vision and mission statements: The vision statement is the core of your organization lasting for one hundred years. Conversely, the mission statement encompasses your shorter target goal and can be changed once that goal is met.
We can look at Google Trends to see the difference between searches for mission v.s. vision statements. And what we see is that, more often than not, we are overusing the term “mission statement.” In the order of importance, we should look at values, then vision, followed by mission, then objectives, and, finally, key performance indicators (KPIs). The values of your organization help you to write your vision, which your mission, objectives, and KPIs will then then aim to accomplish.

How to Write a Vision Statement

Your vision statement is a view of how the world should be as a result of your work. It should be short (i.e., one sentence), but also inspiring, memorable, and able to remain unchanged for 100 years.

Examples of Nonprofit Vision Statements:

Habitat for Humanity’s vision statement is for a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
charity:water’s vision statement affirms their belief that we can end the water crisis in our lifetime by ensuring every person on the planet has access to life’s most basic need: clean drinking water.
Teach for America’s vision statement is that one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.


Vision & Mission Statement Generator

Mission Statements

A mission statement should be more tangible, have a shorter lifespan (think 1-5 years), and evolve more frequently than vision statements. This is the fundamental purpose of the organization-defined goal that helps you to reach the vision.
You can see here how we are working from the inner circle (the “Why”) to the outer circle (the how”). The mission is not just what challenge we are facing, but also how we are going to go about fixing it. Again, this should be a short, memorable summary of your goals and purpose.
To determine your mission, think about your BHAG: Big Huge, Ambitious Goal. For example, Whole Whale’s vision is to close the nonprofit knowledge gap in data and technology. When we refine that to our mission, it is, by 2020, to be the recognized industry leader, reaching 5 million learning engagements. Try to attach a number or percentage to your mission to help you measure your progress.
If we think about this in military terms, the mission may be to win the war, but the overall goal and vision is to keep the country safe. It’s okay to use the term “mission statement” externally if that makes more sense to your constituents, but internally, you need to define this separately from your vision statement so that your team knows the inspiring end result, as well as the numbers they have to reach to get there.
Now go write those statements! Have an awesome mission or vision statement already? Share it with us @WholeWhale.