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The Difference Between Mission and Vision

Many organizations struggle with understanding the difference between mission and vision statements. It’s understandable since they are sometimes interchangeable in practice. I’ve heard CEOs and Executive Directors interchange “mission” and “vision” when talking about the same thing, usually their mission. So we thought it might be helpful to unpack the important difference between mission and vision and the distinct roles they both play in an organization.

Let’s start with mission statements

The goal of a mission statement is to concisely communicate what the organization does, why they do it, and who they serve. It is a lot to put into a sentence, which makes the good ones all the more impressive.

Look for the what, why and who in these examples:

New York Public Library:

To inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities. 

March of Dimes:

We help moms have full-term pregnancies and research the problems that threaten the health of babies.

Now, on to vision statements

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 their mission is realized. Vision is the far off land. 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 far off.

Here are some examples. Notice how aspirational they are:

Oxfam:

a world without poverty.

Habitat For Humanity:

a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

A powerful vision serves as a North Star, always pulling the 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?

What I hope you see in all these examples is the simplicity of the language. It speaks in a very clear, understandable way to 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.

And if you are curious to know Boardable’s mission and vision, here are our first drafts from a recent offsite:

Boardable’s Mission:

to bring order to the board experience.

This speaks to our “why” of having started boards and suffering through the chaos and frustration of not having a tool to centralize board communications and activities.

Boardable’s Vision:

all boards have the talent and tools to fulfill their missions.

This unpacks the potential we see in Boardable to go well beyond centralizing activities. We want to connect boards with new resources that transform how they work.

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