How to Update Your Mission Statement

If you read our resource on the difference between mission statements and vision statements, you know that, while these two terms are not interchangeable, both are important to your nonprofit. To recap, a vision statement is your view of how the world should be as a result of your work. This is the statement that should be short, inspiring, memorable, and able to remain unchanged for 100 years.
Your mission statement, however, is the “how” that helps you reach the “why” of your vision. It should be short like the vision statement, but it should also feel more tangible, and it should evolve frequently (every 2-5 years).
Clearly, one of the biggest differences between mission and vision statements is their lifespans. Since your vision statement communicates the core purpose of your organization, you most likely won’t need to update it (unless you save the environment, cure cancer, or accomplish world peace). By contrast, your mission statement should adjust to reflect your progress. The beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect on your organization’s goals, so we put together a few tips on how to go about updating your mission statement for 2018.
New year, new mission statement? Find out when it's time to revise your organization's mission — and how to do it. Click To Tweet

First, some signs that your mission statement is out-of-date

Recognizing when your mission statement is in need of a makeover is an important first step. Here are a few telltale signs that you’re due for an update:

  • It’s been a LONG time

While it’s always possible that your mission statement can endure in the same format for multiple years, you should never go too long without revisiting it and questioning its relevance. Mission statements are crucial to team motivation and should be current enough to align with even daily tasks. Check in with your mission statement at least once every 5 years.

  • Something doesn’t add up

Strong mission statements include numbers that help define your direction and hold your organization accountable for your goal. If the numbers you attached to your statement have become (or continue to be) unrealistic, you should change them. Numbers that reflect an outdated goal should be changed as well. Having an incorrect or unattainable measurement of your progress will negatively impact the energy of your team.

  • You’ve met your BHAG

Your mission statement should derive from one Big Huge Ambitious Goal (BHAG) that you set for your organization as a tangible stepping stone towards your vision. Even though it should be ambitious, the BHAG should be an achievable milestone. In the span of 1-5 years, it’s likely that you’ve met some part of your goal. If this is the case, make sure that your mission statement responds to your success and outlines your next ambitious goal.

  • You’re bigger and better

If your nonprofit has grown or undergone major structural changes since you wrote your mission statement, it’s probably time for a mission update. Such organizational evolution might have allowed for expanded scope or initiatives, and your mission statement should reflect your new team, your new technologies, and any new capabilities that have emerged over time.
The do's and don't's of updating your mission statement (hint: don't build a camel). Click To Tweet

Next, the do’s and don’t’s of revamping your mission statement

Even though you’ve written a mission statement before, it’s always a challenge to review your own writing with a critical eye and identify the best opportunities for change. If you’ve decided that you’re ready for an adjustment, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • DON’T spend money on consulting firms in order to set your mission.

The brainstorming and writing processes are equally crucial in helping you to arrive at a mission statement that truly fits. You know your organization best, so don’t pay to outsource either process when you deserve to control the direction of your work. If you need a fresh perspective, consider booking a daylong retreat offsite in order to brainstorm in a neutral space  

  • DO gather feedback from staff and stakeholders.

While outside consultants could bring in unwanted or off-base ideas, internal team members and other friends of your organization can offer more valuable — and more knowledgeable — input. Your mission should energize every member of your organization, so the opinions of staff and stakeholders do matter.

  • DON’T allow big committees to draft or edit your new mission statement.

You know the phrase “a camel is a horse designed by committee”? In this scenario, we are most wary of camels. Do accept feedback from your associates, but don’t allow too many voices to get their hands on your creation. If anything, your mission should provide unity, and a committee will inevitably make sacrifices and compromises that undermine the unifying aspects of your statement.

  • DO keep it simple.

Can your mission statement be quickly understood? Does it motivate in an aspirational way? If you can’t say yes to both of those questions, then go back to the drawing board.

  • DO consider whether you will post your mission statement on your website.

Do you want your mission to be a part of your organization’s public-facing persona, or do you want it to address your internal staff? Both options can work for a nonprofit, but this decision will affect the way that you write and relay your mission statement.
If you’d like to add your own tips on how to update your mission statement, share them with us at @WholeWhale. And if you need some more inspiration, check out our nonprofit mission statement generator!