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April 17, 2012
Essential #1: Determine the Mission and Purpose of the Board

Nonprofit Board PlanningWhat Should Be Contained Within the Board Mission Statement?

The board’s mission should be a clear and well-documented definition of what is expected of the board as a whole, and the requirements for each member. If you don’t know how to create these expectations for your own board members, you should get help in doing so. This is one of the absolute KEYS to a successful nonprofit board. When board members don’t know what is specifically required of them, what they are accountable for, it becomes a difficult task to measure or evaluate their progress and success.

Of course a primary objective of any board which should be included in every board mission, is accomplishing the goal of providing the financial resources needed to fund the support of its constituent individuals, groups and/or communities it exists to serve. Thus the mission answers the question “What actions will the board take to guarantee that successful campaigns are organized and launched to secure capital, endowment, sponsorship, and underwriting funds. This provides a good topic to illustrate how a board mission statement is used to back the mission of the organization as a whole.


If the Organizational Mission Statement Includes The Verbiage:

“Empower people around the world with a $25 loan” (part of the mission of Kiva, a “microloan” leader)

The Board Mission Statement Could Then Include:

“With the Board of Directors as a whole ultimately responsible for achieving this mission through providing support of organizational marketing efforts and also providing personal outreach that ensures that lender capital is always available to fund customer loans”

What Questions Must Be Answered In The Board Mission Statement?

So the board mission describes WHAT the board exists to accomplish; it essentially asks the question, “What is the board’s reason for existence?” Unlike the organizational mission, it is meant to describe the means, not the ends, of the nonprofit’s board. It is the how, not the why.

And unlike the agency’s overall mission, it should be noted that the board’s mission statement is not designed or revised with direct input from all constituencies. The board needs to define their own mission. Your own statement should also not be arbitrarily compared to the board missions of other nonprofits either – favorably or unfavorably. Recognizing your own unique characteristics and impact on the individuals and groups you serve is vital, so this rule is true no matter how much the apparent similarities of your two organizations might be.

Just some of the questions that could be addressed or answered when creating the board mission statement are:

What are the established boundaries, or “bounds” of the service to be delivered by the organization – and how the board will accomplish their delivery?

Does the language used in your mission statement elevate effort to effect? Words such as try, seek, influence, or encourage suggest exertion that focuses on achieving the results noted in the organizational mission.

Because the measure of the value of a nonprofit’s service is often much harder to define than a commercial business, how will the successful delivery of these services and resources be evaluated?

Is your mission accurate - or does it seek to glorify your organization’s intentions to make yourself sound better, loftier, more extensive or “glamorous” than you truly are?

Is your board mission too broad or too narrow? Does it allow for growth and expansion, but also narrow enough to keep the board clearly and strongly focused? Does it try to be “all things to all people”, or on the other hand restrict the organization from meeting changing needs?

Does your board mission statement use VERBS? If so, is the mission statement really focused on what needs to be done to support goals, instead of the outcomes of the actions, like the organizational mission should do?

Related to Using Verbs, Does Your Board Mission Statement Use Nouns that Signify Activities – the “Means” – Instead of “The Ends”? Examples Include Advocacy, Education, Program, Service, and Others.

Is Your Board (and also Organizational) Mission Statement a Direct Embodiment of the Founder’s Own Vision and Ideas, Typically Based on Personal Experience or Passion? This is “Founders Syndrome” – Where All Others Largely Play a Passive Role, and not nearly as effective.

Does Your Board Mission Use Technical Language or Jargon That Are Meaningless to the Outside World?

Is Your Nonprofit a Federation or Another Type of Membership Organization? What is the Net Value that You Add?

Does Your Board Have Authority Over Other Boards? Does Your Board Mission Statement Focus on How You Will Accomplish What is Unique About Your Organization? How Will Your Board Ensure that You “Stand Above the Crowd”?

Crafting a board mission statement can be a formidable challenge for an organization, but with the right assistance it can be crafted in a way that answers all (or at the very least, most) of these questions. And of course not only will these points of guidance aid in the writing of a new mission statement, they can also be used to revision and rewrite an existing one just as easily.

Unless you have an experienced writer within your organization, you will most likely need an expert consultant to facilitate the basic mission development process with you. Engaging an experienced nonprofit consultant and writer who will fashion the document for you based on your input is of great value to your organization and your board. They can provide the “outside” opinion and perspective that can be critical when crafting both your organizational and board missions.

To succeed in today’s nonprofit “marketplace” - along with volunteers, audiences, donors, and staff - a nonprofit organization must be able to attract high quality board members. Creating an effective board mission statement that outlines responsibilities and expectations can go a long way towards proving the serious focus of the board and their mission.

Your board mission statement is most successful when it clearly and firmly guides the board in making effective decisions about the organization’s future. It motivates and challenges board members to achieve well-defined and shared goals. It is the board’s responsibility of leadership to see to it that the organization always operates within the confines of its mission.

Why Is The Board Mission Statement So Important?

The board mission statement should directly support the mission of the organization, allowing for an action plan to be put into place that is clear, achievable and that board members can be held accountable for. This is a key to every consultancy that I do personally; no session or meeting should end without a detailed action plan to be implemented, so that board members know what they are supposed to be doing. Once again, this ties the board members in unity and clarity – and can help eliminate the issue of simply “chasing money” and thus moving the agency into areas that fall outside its stated mission.

When done correctly this process is of great benefit to the overall success of the organization and will certainly have a strong impact on its long-term sustainability. We should note that this concept of documentation and accountability included here are also addressed throughout this entire series, especially so when we reach Board Essential #8.

With a well-conceived and crafted organizational and board mission statement, the first and most critical step in the process of building a successful nonprofit board has been achieved. But also as noted this is a process that never truly ends for the best nonprofit agencies, as their mission statements are periodically reviewed to ensure that they continue to remain true as guiding forces that can move the organization forward.

Next Up: Essential #2 – Selecting the Right CEO

Posted by Tiffany Applegate on April 17, 2012 at 9:16 AM
Categories: Board Governance
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