Mission and vision statements are essential foundational elements for any organization. However, many organizations struggle with understanding the difference between them.
It’s understandable since they’re often used interchangeably in practice. I’ve heard CEOs and executive directors use “mission” and “vision” when discussing similar statements. So, it might be helpful to unpack the important difference between mission and vision and the distinct roles they both play in an organization.
To excel, organizations and their boards should align their mission and vision statements with their strategic plans. This is easier said than done, so in this guide, I’ll suggest effective strategies for creating useful, accurate, and inspirational mission and vision statements. Here’s what to expect:
When they’re well-crafted, your mission and vision statements can provide a guiding beacon for your organization for years to come. Let’s get started.
Simply put, an organization’s mission statement is a description of what the organization does, why they do it, and who they serve. Alternatively, a vision statement explains what the organization hopes to achieve in the future.
Your mission statement should describe the activities your organization is currently engaged in as well as your overall purpose. This gives all audience members—including current supporters, prospective supporters, potential sponsors, and more—a clear picture of why your organization exists.
On the other hand, if mission statements are the what, why, and who, then vision is the where. By this, I mean a world where the organization has achieved what it set out to do. Vision statements speak to the impact the organization will have when its mission is realized. If you ever realize your organization’s vision, you are most likely done, and you have put yourself out of a job. It should be that big and lofty.
Your organization’s mission and vision statements offer plenty of uses for both your internal staff as well as your external audience. Strong mission and vision statements offer the following benefits to your team:
Whenever your organization faces a crossroads or obstacle, you can reference your mission and vision statements to help decide the best path forward.
You can also use these statements to send a message to your wider audience. Here are a few external benefits your mission and vision statements offer:
Let’s say your organization is a nonprofit that’s focused on promoting sustainability in the fashion industry. When prospective supporters come across your well-written mission and vision statements, they can assess whether your goals and activities align with their personal values and priorities. This makes it easier for them to determine whether they’re interested in supporting your organization and funding your work. A poorly-written mission or vision statement, however, has the potential to turn away prospective supporters before they’ve even had the chance to explore your organization’s programs and initiatives in depth.
So, you want to write mission and vision statements that inspire your audience members, motivate your internal team, and declare your purpose and goals to the world. But where should you start?
These statements tend to vary across mission-driven organizations and businesses, and I’ve found it’s often helpful to review examples. This can help you weigh the different options available when it comes to formatting and structuring your own statements.
Here’s a deep dive into 10 effective mission and vision statements from a variety of organizations:
Mission Statement: To conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth
Vision Statement: To build a future in which people live in harmony with nature
Why They Work: WWF’s mission statement addresses the urgent, daily work that the organization engages in to combat threats to wildlife and habitats worldwide. Then, their vision statement paints an aspirational and enticing image of an ideal future reality — a world that is not only free of threats but one in which people actively live harmoniously with the natural environment. This is an effective pairing of practical, on-the-ground efforts with lofty, uplifting aspirations.
Mission Statement: We fight inequality to end poverty and injustice.
Vision Statement: A world without poverty
Why They Work: Oxfam’s mission and vision statements are both short and to the point, making them incredibly impactful and memorable for audience members. If they can’t remember anything else, the word “poverty” will likely stand out in supporters’ minds, helping them recall exactly what Oxfam is all about.
Mission Statement: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful
Vision Statement: To provide access to the world’s information in one click
Why They Work: Google is the world’s leading search engine. It’s so popular that its name has actually become a verb itself meaning “to search for something on the internet.” Google’s mission and vision statements provide a simplified, cogent look at why this information giant does what it does.
Mission Statement: Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.
Vision Statement: A world where everyone has a decent place to live
Why They Work: Habitat for Humanity’s mission and vision statements bring together the organization’s Christian roots and commitment to creating housing for individuals in need. The vision statement exemplifies the organization’s large-scale aspirations. Together, these statements provide a strong positioning message of combating homelessness and building stronger communities.
Mission Statement: To offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low, that as many people as possible will be able to afford them
Vision Statement: To create a better everyday life for the many people
Why They Work: IKEA isn’t just devoted to providing valuable and well-made home decor and furniture items. Their mission and vision statements reveal that the Swedish furniture powerhouse sees well-designed, useful home furnishing and low prices as keys to creating a better day-to-day environment for everyone. This confluence of ideas shows the IKEA audience that the company prioritizes helping its customers reach a better quality of life.
Mission Statement: To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all
Vision Statement: A future in which all people – no matter who they are or where they come from – get the support they need, when they need it, to reach their full potential
Why They Work: The YMCA’s mission and vision statements specifically mention the organization’s Christian values and commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles. This gives individuals enough context to understand the main purpose of the YMCA. At the same time, these declarations are vague enough to encompass the wide range of programs and services that the plethora of local chapters offers.
Mission Statement: To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens
Vision Statement: Provide a world-class Club Experience that assures success is within reach of every young person who enters our doors, with all members on track to graduate from high school with a plan for the future, demonstrating good character and citizenship, and living a healthy lifestyle
Why They Work: The Boys & Girls Club mission statement does an effective job of describing the organization’s youth empowerment focus. Then, the vision statement takes it up a notch by detailing the specific ways that the organization equips young people to meet the future with a solid plan and healthy lifestyle.
Mission Statement: To inspire hope, and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education and research
Vision Statement: Mayo Clinic will provide an unparalleled experience as the most trusted partner for health care.
Why They Work: The mission statement covers all aspects of the Mayo Clinic’s main three activities, which are clinical practice, education, and research. The vision statement provides a powerful goal, giving a guiding star to those who work for the organization and an expectation of quality care for patients.
Mission Statement: To enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work
Vision Statement: Every person has the opportunity to achieve his/her fullest potential and participate in and contribute to all aspects of life.
Why They Work: Similar to the YMCA’s mission and vision statements, these Goodwill declarations strike a balance between specific and all-encompassing. They make the organization’s commitment to providing job training and employment opportunities clear, but also take it a step further with a dedication to helping community members become more well-rounded in all aspects of life.
Mission Statement: Spread ideas
Vision Statement: To make great ideas accessible and spark conversation
Why They Work: TED’s mission and vision statements are intentionally broad to reflect the nature of TED Talks themselves. TED Talks cover an extensive range of topics — practically any idea in the world can be presented in a TED Talk format. With these statements, audience members know to expect that their curiosity will be peaked and that they’ll be introduced to a new way of looking at a topic or issue.
What I hope you see in all these examples is the simplicity of the language. They each speak in a very clear, understandable way about what the organization does and the impact they want to make on the world.
When drafting your mission and vision statements, resist the temptation to stuff them with keywords and internal language. Focus on communicating something powerful and simple. I’ve found that when it comes to communication, simple travels further.
Your mission and vision statements are inextricably linked. Your mission statement is the blueprint or roadmap guiding you to your ultimate destination. Your vision is like a destination that’s ever-changing and likely always out of your grasp. But in this case, the cliched phrase “It’s not about the destination — it’s about the journey” is true.
A powerful vision serves as a North Star, always pulling your organization forward. Chances are we won’t live to experience a world without poverty or a world where everyone has a decent place to live. But wouldn’t that be wonderful?
When drafting your mission and vision statements, adopt a positive, hopeful mindset that envisions the world exactly as you hope it can be someday. Choose clear and straightforward phrasing, and the rest will fall into place.
If you’re looking for more information on how to establish administrative mechanisms for your organization, check out these additional resources:
A Complete Guide to Board Meeting Agendas (with Templates!). Does your organization’s board require more assistance keeping meetings on track? Use this guide to create effective meeting agendas so your board can continue discussing and striving toward your vision.
Corporate Meetings: What Your Company’s Leaders Need to Know. How can you put your mission statement and values into play when conducting a corporate meeting? This resource provides a blueprint for more intentional, successful meetings.
Conflict of Interest Policy: A How-To Guide & Free Template. A conflict of interest policy is another important guiding principle for your organization. Learn more about creating and implementing a robust policy to protect your organization.