You're more than your mission statement

Missions statements are funny, aren't they?

They are usually painstakingly crafted by a leadership team or the board of directors. Some times staff contribute, sometimes they don't. What we end up with many times is a crazy long paragraph-sentence, full of nonprofit jargon like "engage" "fostering" and "development". In an attempt to be succinct but also cover everything an organization does, we end up with a statement that at best is vague to the audiences we want to serve. 

What if you stopped focusing on your mission statement? Instead what if when you talked about your organization the conversation shifted first to what you actually do, then to what your organization stands for? Forget the flowery language and get right to the heart of your organizational values. When you do this you make it easier for internal and external audiences to understand what you do, connect with your work and become clients, supporters and in some cases brand champions.

Mariah greets fellow Marcommer 4 Good Kim East of the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County.

Mariah greets fellow Marcommer 4 Good Kim East of the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County.

That's what Mariah Tanner, marketing manager for Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP)challenged us to do at a Marcom Meetup for Nonprofits. Mariah's talk was about cultivating brand champions, but the most interesting part was not so much in building armies of external audiences as your brand champions. It hit much closer to home. The best, brightest and truest brand champions are actually members of our teams. Mariah believes this is where the real secret sauce is, because if you can get your team to truly understand, believe in and share what your organization does the connections they make around their work with others will be much more powerful than any campaign. 

When you think about it each of us have layers and layers of people we know and circles we run in. Think about all of those interactions. Now think about how many times you are asked,"What do you do?" or "Where do you work?" If every person in your organization had an answer that was succinct, easy to understand and they felt connected to your organization, can you imagine where that conversation would go? And after that conversation ends, can you imagine how many website visits you would get? (!#!@ -- wait that is just the digital nerd in me). 

So let's try a real life example...

Here's a rework of my organization SACNAS - Society for Advancing Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. 

Our mission statement:
"SACNAS is an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicano/Hispanic and Native American scientists, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in STEM."

What we actually do:
A nonprofit that helps Chicanos and Native Americans pursue higher education and positions of leadership in STEM. 

We create professional development and cultural programs through local membership chapters year round. Once a year hold the largest STEM diversity conference in the nation to bring our  3,000 + professionals together.

What we stand for (Values):
Social justice, equity, diversity, cultural pride, empowerment through education, inclusion

When you look at these three statements which is the most powerful? Which is the easiest to understand? Which words will you remember most? The point here is not to drop your mission statement entirely (we need those for grant writing;). Instead, arm your team with language they can use in the real world about your organization. The exact words don't matter. What matters most is the core of the message and helping your team understand how to communicate about your org in a cohesive way.

I'll take Mariah's message a step further and ask you not only to work on language but also think about HOW people connect to their work for your organization. How does your IT person connect with your organization's purpose? How about the receptionist? How about a board member? What about your program managers? As communicators and leaders it's our job to make people feel connected to their work and give them the tools to share our organization's purpose.

"When your team can see and feel their contributions as truly valuable, that is the moment the shift happens, that is when they are now a champion for what your organization is moving. They can authentically see themselves as a part of the mission," Mariah said.

I loved Mariah's talk for many reasons, but chief among those is the simplicity of language. That's what my approach is as a digital storyteller and communications strategist -- help clients see how powerful easy to understand language can be. 

If you loved Mariah's ideas you can see more on her inspiring talk on this awesome SlideShare.

About Marcom for NonProfits

Jenny Kurzweil was searching for more nonprofit communications professional development resources for her role as director of communications at SACNAS. When she saw none existed, she created her own. Now almost two years later Jenny taps nonprofit leaders like Mariah to share their ideas, experience and knowledge on marketing and communications. 

The group meets once a quarter and is open to anyone and everyone who wants to learn more about nonprofits marketing and communications.