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Nonprofit Vision and Mission: What’s the Difference?

Thoughts from Boardable CEO Jeb Banner

What’s the Difference Between Vision and Mission for Nonprofits?

For anyone working in the nonprofit world, the words “vision” and “mission” might seem synonymous. After all, they’re both commonly used together in the same context and at the same time. It can be shocking to learn that they’re actually quite different and mean completely different things. 

This article will walk nonprofit leaders through the difference between vision and mission, while answering some deeper questions along the way.  

nonprofit vision or mission
 

What is a mission statement, and how do you create one?

Simply put, a mission statement has to do with the operational side of a nonprofit. A mission statement deals with the work that is done every single day. It is practical and tactical and explains exactly how and why a nonprofit is in business. A mission statement succinctly outlines the people a nonprofit is serving, the specific charitable service it is delivering, and why this service is so important. 

As an example, let’s look at a nonprofit that sets up urban farming programs in underserved food deserts. While the general idea of the nonprofit might be to combat inner-city hunger, the mission statement must be more to the point. It is the action and the reasoning behind it. So, for this nonprofit the mission statement might read: 

Bringing urban farms to food deserts to help lift families out of poverty.


When writing a mission statement, it can be easy to err on the side of too “jargon-y” or too “marketing-esque.” When it comes to mission statements, the shorter the better. They need to be easy to remember and easy for newcomers to connect to.  

Here’s an example of a mission statement that is far too detailed:

Revitalizing unused property in urban settings to reconnect underprivileged populations with agricultural practices to bring nourishment and health to these communities.


Now, let’s look at the same mission statement using industry best practices and input:

Helping people in food deserts build and maintain urban farms.


It’s not uncommon for nonprofits to push back against an agreed-upon mission statement because it is too short or too vague. In these cases, an elevator pitch can come into play. Nonprofits can have a short mission statement – one sentence to get your name out there – and then a longer elevator pitch that expands on this idea and gives an audience more context. It can be hard for nonprofit leaders (and leaders in general) to boil big ideas down because they simply aren’t used to repeating themselves. This is why facilitators are so important. 

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In order to come to a consensus with a board and/or nonprofit team over what a mission statement should consist of, a facilitator should be involved. Working in rounds, a facilitator is a neutral third party that helps distill big ideas down to a few single data points. Facilitators are the ones that bring these big ideas to life. Although a mission statement is a simple sentence, it’s a sentence that will live on for years and provide clarity into your organization. 

How is a vision statement different?

If a mission statement is the cornerstone of a nonprofit, the vision statement is the top-of-mind goal or an ideal state. Vision statements are aspirational and forward-thinking. They should be far removed enough from a nonprofit’s current state that there is always something to strive for, but they shouldn’t be so impossible that there is no chance of success. Vision statements highlight the fact that nonprofits are always striving towards a brighter future. 

Building off of the above mission statement example, the vision statement associated with an urban farming program might go something like this:

A world where no child goes hungry.

 

To test out your nonprofit’s vision statement, add the words “A future where” or “A world where…” in front of the rest of the statement. Then, you can start to measure your progress toward this ideal state.  

When to use a vision and mission statement

In most cases, vision and mission statements go together hand-in-hand. Because mission statements are so focused and vision statements are so forward thinking, they work well together in a single instance when describing a nonprofit’s reason for being. Nonprofits should think of their vision statement as their end goal, or where they want to eventually be. Mission statements are the maps that get them there. Good luck!

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