How to Write a Mission Statement for a Nonprofit

Your mission statement is a single concise statement that should serve to explain and your nonprofit’s purpose and guide its work.

Every for-profit organization is for profit in the same way; every nonprofit organization is not for profit differently (apologies to Tolstoy). Your nonprofit’s mission statement is a key tool in helping differentiate your nonprofit from all others.

Your mission statement is a single concise statement that should serve to explain and popularize your nonprofit’s purpose and guide its work. It should address why your nonprofit exists, what it hopes to accomplish, and what activities it will undertake, where, and for whom. Everything your nonprofit is, does, and wants to do, should flow from this statement.

The IRS encourages all nonprofits to create mission statements and regularly review them. Moreover, the statement should be adopted by your nonprofit’s board of directors. Your mission statement should be set forth in the application for tax-exempt status you file with the IRS as well as the Forms 990 or 990-EZ your nonprofit files each year. It should also be prominently displayed on your website, publications, and fundraising materials. It should guide you in deciding what activities your nonprofit should undertake, and which it should avoid.

So, no pressure… how do you write this all-important statement? There is no single best way. It can be drafted by a single individual or a committee. A good way to go about drafting your statement is to ask and answer three simple questions:

Who or what is your nonprofit trying to serve? In other words, what is your target group--for example, homeless people, the blind, arts organizations. Also, what is the geographic area you serve? One city, a whole state, the entire United States?

What are your nonprofit’s goals? In other words, what is it your nonprofit wants to help its target group achieve? For example, if your target group is the homeless, you want to help them find a permanent home.

How is your nonprofit going to achieve these goals? What programs or strategies will you use to help your target reach the goals you set for them?

Example 1: A nonprofit sponsors 11 programs to help prevent child abuse in Miami, Florida. Its target group is children in Miami. Its goal is to stop such children from being abused. It will achieve this goal by sponsoring 11 programs. It’s mission statement could be: “Our mission is to eradicate child abuse by providing 11 different child abuse prevention, intervention and treatment programs for children in Miami, Florida.”

Example 2: A religious nonprofit seeks to end the death penalty throughout the United States. Its target group is people facing the death penalty. Its goal is to eliminate the death penalty throughout the U.S. Its strategy is to mobilize faith communities. Its mission statement could be: “The mission of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty is to educate and mobilize faith communities to act to abolish the death penalty in the United States.”

You can find examples of mission statements by looking at the website of almost any nonprofit. It may be helpful to look at the statements created by nonprofits engaged in activities similar to your own. However, do not copy another nonprofit’s mission statement. This is not only unethical, it is antiproductive. You want your nonprofit’s mission statement to be as unique and memorable as possible.

August 2013

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