Working with volunteers can be one of the most beneficial and important elements to an organization’s success, but it also can greatly impede the work of an organization if not done correctly. In this post I will show you how to create in inspiring mission for your organization that will help to recruit and keep people engaged and passionate about the work your organization does.
Flickr Photo Credit: tonyhall
How do I know how to create an inspiring mission? I know how to do this because I have practiced it for five years while leading a nonprofit program called, A Day of Hope. For five years I worked with volunteers, donors, and the community of Turlock to feed over 1,000 families for Thanksgiving. This was a massive amount of work and it required a lot of help from a large number of volunteers.
To actively work with volunteers and recruit them for your work, you have to have an inspiring mission. You have to have an inspiring mission for your organization as a whole, or at least for your individual department or program. My argument is that you can actually have both.
However, this is not new information, right? We all know as leaders that we must have an inspiring mission for our organization. But, let me ask you this. Can you recite the mission for your organization or program from memory? Without reading it somewhere, I encourage you to try to remember it.
In the month of March I gave a talk to three separate groups of leaders in the community and I asked them this question, “Who here can recite the mission statement of their organization ” After asking this question people looked at each other not knowing what to say until they saw the mission of their organization on the wall, which is when they began to read it.
If you are someone who cannot recite the mission of your organization or program from memory, I’d like to share with you some tips on how to create an inspiring mission for your program.
3 Key Elements of an Inspiring Mission
- Short: one sentence or less
- Exciting: showing how your program changes lives
- Memorable: it’s okay for a mission to rhyme, use similar words, or be an alliteration if that helps it be more memorable
Here are two examples of inspiring mission statements:
- A Day of Hope: to provide hope and encouragement to families in need at Thanksgiving. It has been three years since I have officially worked with A Day of Hope, but I can still recite this mission statement from memory. I don’t need to read it on the back of a business card or look for it on the wall, it is a mission that is burnt into my memory. This mission also follows our three key elements for creating an inspiring mission because it is short (one sentence or less), it is exciting (who doesn’t want to help families in need for Thanksgiving?), and is is memorable (the mission statement has the same word “hope” inside of it which relates to the name of our program).
- North Point Community Church: to create churches unchured people love to attend. This is a mission or maybe even a “vision” statement but it also is a great example of what a mission statement should look like. It is short (again, it’s not a complete sentence), it is exciting (anyone who cares for lost people wants unchured people to come to church), and it is memorable (by saying they want to create a “church” that “unchured” people love to attend).
On the topic of mission and vision, Mark Sanborn, author of numerous books on leadership explains: “Leaders agonize when developing vision, mission, and strategy.” He goes on to say that for a vision or message to matter to listeners that vision must be:
- Constant: The best messaging loses effectiveness when it changes. The more often messaging changes, the less believable future messaging becomes.
- Clear: Ambiguity is the enemy of success. When people aren’t clear on what you mean, they fill in the blanks, and usually incorrectly.
- Catchy: Your audience is bombarded with messages in every conceivable medium. Being catchy is about breaking through the clutter and being memorable.
- Compelling: The ultimate guard against dilution [of vision] is to make your important messages compelling. People can be clear and able to act on the information but they won’t without reasons that make sense to them. That is the essence of creating a compelling message: getting people to care enough to do something. Compelling ideas are powerful; they have the ability to induce action.[ref]Mark Sanborn, “The Dilution Dilemma: Making Your Messages Matter”, Special Briefing e-newsletter, January 25, 2010.[/ref]
Having an inspiring mission is extremely important for your organization. In fact, there are two reasons you must have an inspiring mission:
- As good and important as you think your work is, not everyone is going to be as passionate about your project as you are. So, when you have a clear and succinct mission, it becomes easy for the people who want to help to opt in and the people who don’t want to get involved are able to stay away.
- When you have a mission that is short and succinct it allows you to talk about your organization in a way that helps others know what you are doing, thus allowing them to figure out if they want to help. This is important because people hear information about all kinds of great nonprofits in the community. Your mission is what will or will not hook them. How many times have you sat at church and heard several announcements for good work going on in the community where your help was needed?
A story which illustrates that people often hear of lots of programs took place once when I was giving a presentation to ask for money for a program I was working with. I had done what I thought was a great presentation of about 15 minutes about our organization, what we do for work, how we were changing lives, and how the audience could support our work. After my presentation the president of the company wanted to “remind” the staff that they had several other philanthropic efforts going on. She proceeded to tell them about the clothing collection they were doing for a neighboring school, about how they needed volunteers for their Salvation Army Kettle site, she reminded them that they were collecting food for another school, and then another lady wanted to remind everyone they they were still looking for people to purchase Christmas toys at the mall for kids.
As you can guess, there were a bunch of projects which were all pitched to that audience within a short period of time. In that environment you must have an inspiring mission that will grab the attention of people in a way that causes them to want to get involved with your work.
Another important aspect of your inspiring mission is that it does not have talk about everything you do. Your mission is the overall goal or dream of your work, but does not necessarily have to encompass all of the work you do.
An example of this is how at United Way of Stanislaus County we try to sometimes tell people about all the work that we do. We try to tell them that we have 24 Partner Agencies, 42 programs we fund, that we work to advance the common good in the areas of education, income, and health, and that we want people to do that by giving, advocating, and volunteering, and in addition to that we have five direct service programs which are our Volunteer Center, 2-1-1 help-line, FamilyWize Prescription Discount Cards, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), and our Bank on Stanislaus County programs. And, when we visit these people a year later, we wonder why no one remembers what we do! Because we told them about all our work they can’t remember everything, so they end up remembering nothing.
As a result, I have developed my own way of saying what we do at United Way: we fund programs that help people in need. That is short, exciting, and memorable. Another example is North Point Community Church’s mission: to create churches that unchurched people love to attend. Similar to my my example at United Way, this is not a complete statement. Of course they do much more work than simply create a church that unchurched people love to attend, but their mission is their mission because it is short, exciting, and memorable.
Once you have your inspiring mission statement, share it. Post it everywhere as a way to share with others what you are doing and how you are helping. Share it at the beginning of your meetings, on your website, on your flyers, in your presentations.