Question Four: What Does Your Current Environment Look Like?

Question Four: What Does Your Current Environment Look Like?

Question Four: What Does Your Current Environment Look Like?

John Bauer June 19, 2017 blog, News No comments
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If you have taken the time to stare into the future, and you and your staff have a pretty good idea of the major trends that will shape the environment into which you wish to lead your organization, you are now ready to turn your attention to your current environment and to analyze your organization as it operates today. I suggest that the way to do this is by considering the same planning elements you used to predict the future, only now you will evaluate your current status in each of those areas.

As I have asserted previously, this does not mean doing a SWOT analysis. I strongly believe that examining your current strengths and opportunities are of strategic importance, while documenting weaknesses and threats promotes engagement by your board in management activities. Weaknesses and threats are better handled through a risk assessment and mitigation process – not through strategic planning. Besides, as Tom McLaughlin asks, “What would you rather build your future on – your strengths or your weaknesses?” Yeah, I thought so.

This question is different than the one you answered earlier about how you are doing? The answer to that question was really intended to measure the sustainability of your mission, the quality with which you execute your mission, and the impact you are having on the people you support. It is also a different question from one which examines the organization’s capacity to move forward. That question, though related, looks at the infrastructure, systems, policies, practices, leaders, and the human and technological capital that support the operations and make growth and improvement possible.

This question is intended to identify those areas of organizational strength as related to essential planning elements and to call out gaps where the current status is not in alignment with the demands of the perceived future. If this is a bit confusing, allow me to describe a number of planning elements and demonstrate how future needs can be aligned with current realities. Let’s take the seven planning elements I described in my previous article. You can select your own if you wish. These are mine and are not held up as being exclusive. However, I have found that they do broadly cover the most important dimensions of strategic planning and thinking. As you think about each of the areas and how your organization is currently positioned, ponder the answers you provide to the questions I have posed.


How satisfied are you with the current IT and applied technology infrastructure in your organization? Do you have a current IT plan and are you executing that plan? How is technology used to support each of your missional programs? Are some programs greater beneficiaries of technology assets? Are there significant differences among staff in your various service areas with respect to use? Do you have any “power users?” What are the strengths you have in IT that can position you to move forward?


What are the demographic attributes of the people you currently serve? What is your current market niche in that population? Can you leverage your current position in the population to increase or expand the demand for your services? Are you adaptable in your current service lines to address the needs of new or different markets in the current environment? Is your organization the “gold standard” for the type of service you provide in your area? How do you compare?

Competitive Market

With whom do you currently compete? Are they better, stronger, bigger than you? Do they take potential revenue away from you? With whom do you collaborate or operate joint programs? Are there smaller, weaker, vulnerable organizations in your area that might be targets for collaboration or acquisition? What is your current market share and is expansion in that niche possible?

Regulatory Environment

How does government regulation affect your bottom line? Quality of services? Public perception? Are government agencies helpful to your work or do they present burdensome obstacles to efficient and effective operation? Do you have easy access to relevant government leaders and decision-makers? Do you participate in industry-wide advocacy efforts to advance awareness and support for your services and the people you serve? Do you have sufficient leverage with legislators to advance your cause?

Revenues and Expenses

Where does the money come from to fund your operations? How strong is your advocacy position with government agencies to sustain financial support for your programs? What does your donor base look like and can its profile support sustainable growth? What percentage of operating expense goes to administrative functions? If you had to cut 15% from your budget today, could you do so without impacting the quality of your services? Do you have endowed funds or a “rainy-day” fund to cover unanticipated exigencies? Are programs funded by grants and if so, what is your success rate in winning such grants?

Work Force

How are your current employees positioned in order to maximize loyalty, professional growth, retention, promotion, and commitment to the mission? What is your current turnover rate for all categories of employee? What are the skills required of current employees and how are those skills acquired, developed, improved? How are employees rewarded for excellent performance? How is employee performance evaluated? How are employees recruited, oriented, on-boarded, trained, and retained?


Where do you currently provide services and what constraints currently exist which limit your geographic reach? If you operate at multiple sites, how do you ensure coordination among units and their staffs? What systems currently exist which promote smooth operation? Are there current opportunities to “franchise” your services into other geographic areas? Are there organizations with which you can collaborate to intentionally expand your service area?

These are only a few of the many questions that can be asked to eventually paint a fairly accurate picture of your organization’s current internal and external environment. Once answers are provided in those seven categories, they can be lined up with the work you did to predict what the environment would look like in five years. Comparing the current status with the projected environment will allow you to identify positions of strength upon which to build and also gaps which should be filled. Such gaps are not weaknesses per se, but are areas of opportunity which can be built up to better position the organization to move into its preferred future.

Below is a simple diagram which describes the process I have laid out. If all of this makes some sense to you and if the approach I’m describing in these articles resonates with your own ideas of how to engage in effective and useful strategic planning, I hope you will take what is useful and apply it to your own situation. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that a good way to avoid having to pay an expensive consultant a lot of money is to follow my approach. My goal in these ten articles is to provide all the tools you will need. Take freely. Use what you can. Of course, if you desire to have a “knowledge expert” like me facilitate the process, I would be all too happy to talk to you about it.

Next week I’ll tell you how I take the analysis of future trends, the current status environment scan, and project the organization’s preferred future in terms that can drive action and accountability while also ensuring that on-going, dynamic strategic decision-making is supported.

In the meantime, I always welcome feedback.







Question Three: What Will Your Environment Look Like in The Future?

John Bauer June 8, 2017 blog, News No comments
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Now that you have affirmed, clarified or amended your mission statement, and have conducted an honest appraisal of the impact and sustainability of your current business model, it is time to begin looking into your future to see what the world will probably look like. This step is a necessary prerequisite to actually trying to project your position into that future simply because the environment in which you currently operate is bound to change and the future environment in which you hope to be effectively positioned may exhibit qualities for which you are inadequately equipped.

In my experience working with nonprofit, mission-driven organizations, a common mistake I frequently observe is neglecting to do the hard research into future trends that is necessary to understand the world, how it is changing, and how it will likely affect the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission. I have seen organizations immediately move from an internal assessment (How are we doing?) to a projection of the mission into a future based on a set of assumptions, usually around things like the rate of inflation, turnover, cost of administration, market demand, and a host of other environmental factors. Too often these assumptions are expressed in some kind of incremental fashion, such as “employee turnover will remain at 35% per year.” So, organizations cast their vision by articulating strategies based on the false assumption that the rate of change of environmental factors will remain constant. I remember suggesting in a strategic plan that I was facilitating about ten years ago that an average annual return on investment of 5% could be assumed through the duration of the plan. Then August of 2008 came along, the economy went into recession, the endowment lost 35% of its value, and my assumption went up in smoke.

Admittedly, predicting the future is very difficult and if I could tell you with certainty what the world will look like in five years, I wouldn’t be writing about it. But there are macro trends that can be recognized with some good research.  These trends must be thoughtfully considered before putting a stake in the ground to claim your preferred future.

Let me suggest a number of critical areas that should be investigated. Searching out the best available research in these areas isn’t necessarily easy, but knowledge specialists within the organization as well individuals in the same service industry or academia should be conversant in the primary literature for trend data around relevant variables. Professional associations also are repositories of data collected on behalf of member organizations (e.g., AARP, Leading Age, AAIDD, etc.).


No area changes as rapidly as IT. New systems and applications are rolled out on a daily basis. New uses of technology to support people and deliver services are in abundance. Technology facilitated learning is changing the face of training and certification. Business data is becoming business intelligence as new technologies enable predictive forecasting and support proactive positioning based on statistical inference. Because of the rate of change, however, the challenge is to anticipate what technology in service to your mission will look like. This is so important because of the growing percentage of operating budgets comprised of IT hardware, software and support. Advances in technology also have the potential to affect other areas of operation such as employment, direct care, finance, competition, funding, and many others.

Population Changes and Demand for Services

Nonprofit organizations are by definition in the people business. Organizations which serve those in need must understand the populations they serve and how the target population might change. Moreover, changes in the attributes of those populations must be understood. For example, if you are in the senior services sector, it is one thing to understand population distribution in various age cohorts and an entirely different thing to understand how people think as they age with respect to the kinds of services they need or desire. You might ask, “How do the current models of independent living, assisted living, memory care, etc. align with growing preferences about aging in place?” In the world of intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), we know that prenatal screening for birth defects and genetic anomalies is contributing to higher rates of abortion. A pertinent question might be, “What is the rate of decline in the population of individuals with Down’s Synodrome or other disabilities who would benefit from our services?”

Studies of birth rates among ethnic and racial groups, reports on immigration and areas of settlement, descriptions of age cohorts in the future, longevity and life expectancy studies – all of these may be consulted to develop a best guess about the people your organization will serve in the future. As people live longer, their needs for services increase.

Competitive Market

Your organization is probably not the unique snowflake you think it is. I’m guessing there are other agencies in your area that offer the same or similar services. The reason your agency came into existence and the reason it is still operating is, to be sure, noble. But the fact is that nobody has exclusive dibs on people and there is going to be competition for the people you serve from some source. As long as there is a market that can be further penetrated, businesses are going to continue to grow. Your agency may be the equivalent of the local mom and pop corner grocery store. You may have a loyal customer base.  But when Walmart decides to open a megastore on the outskirts of your town, you are going to be challenged to compete. Understanding the market and your competition is critical for survival and positioning. The mom and pop grocery store may survive, but only by differentiating itself in ways that are of value to its customers.

Knowing who your competitors are and the relative shares of the market you and they serve is incredibly important for another reason. It just may be that your competitors are also opportunities for collaboration. I especially see this happening in health care, but it is also increasingly common in social services, foundations, and philanthropy. On a mega-scale, think about Bill and Melinda Gates’ Giving Pledge in which the world’s billionaires have been challenged to pledge their wealth to do good in the world. On a smaller scale, think about how several private school foundations can create pooled investment funds instead of competing for the same donors. Collaborations don’t have to mean mergers or acquisitions. There are myriad ways of collaborating with competitors for mutual advantage. Knowing the competitive landscape in your future environment will help shape your thinking beyond the narrow confines of your current mission and open up a future of possibilities.

Government Policy and Regulation

Elections have consequences and the most recent presidential election is a stark reminder of this fact. There is no debate about the exponential expansion of regulation that occurred under the previous administration. The new administration is in the process of rolling back many of those regulations in areas such as environmental protection, health care, tax reform, immigration, entitlement reform, financial institutions, small business regulation, and others. Whether this is good or bad is for others to judge, and what this will mean for nonprofit charitable service organizations is anybody’s guess. However, assuming the current leadership will be in office for the next four years, some predictions are possible. Reform of health care and the tax code seems inevitable. This actually may be good for smaller organizations that have been hit hard by rate increases in health care. On the other hand, possible changes in the administration and funding of Medicaid could be catastrophic to nonprofits that rely heavily on reimbursements for services. Closely monitoring government policies is of critical importance for organizations whose very existence depends upon the largesse of government.

Revenues and Expenses

Most nonprofit organizations depend up a mix of revenues to support their operations. In the world of senior services, public sources may include Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Supplemental Social Security, and state and local assistance. Personal sources may include pensions, retirement accounts and personal savings. To provide services takes a lot of money, so the question is: “Where will the money come from in the future to pay for these services?” The brutal reality is that, “No money, no mission.”

Most nonprofits also rely heavily on donor support. Revenues can come from any number of sources including special fund-raising events, annual direct mail campaigns, major gift solicitation, planned giving, and legacy and estate gifts. Many organizations also seek corporate and foundation support. Larger organizations may derive operating revenue from the return on investment of endowment funds. A few even have their own foundations. Most nonprofits, however, are too small and thinly staffed to capitalize on the many ways to raise non-operating revenue.

And then there is the whole area of social enterprise. When the people you support can be organized to produce a service or product that contributes to their own support, mutual benefit can be derived. Nonprofit service organizations have long used vehicles like resale or thrift stores as a way to engage volunteers and people supported to generate revenue. Others have incorporated green strategies to reduce utility bills and waste. Others have applied micro-financing strategies to support client business start-ups. There are many examples that can be found which may have potential for your organization.

It is tough to predict where the money is going to come from, especially when there is a dramatic change in the federal government. The future of Medicare and Medicaid is anybody’s guess as of this writing. So trying to predict the likely payer mix for services may be an exercise in futility until some measure of clarity is achieved in Washington. Remaining oblivious or fatalistic is not an option.

The expense side of the organization must also be examined, especially with respect to anticipated trends in how costs will likely change over time. Will technology be able to offset some of the administrative overhead or make service delivery more efficient and cost effective? Will changes in government regulation potentially raise or lower expenses? Will health care reform lower the cost of employee health insurance? Is it more or less likely that labor unions will attempt to organize your employees?

Last, just as we painfully observed in 2008, a downturn in the overall economy can have a devastating effect on nonprofit revenues. Some suggest that funding of nonprofit social services is a leading indicator of market decline and a lagging indicator of market recovery. Reimbursements for human services are among the first strategies state’s employ to balance budgets and restoring or raising rates usually comes later. I guess that makes some sense. What it also does is make predictions about the future of the economy very challenging, especially when big name economists can’t agree. All I can say is that leaders of nonprofit organizations better have trusted counsel when making assumptions about the future of the economy. Make assumptions about the future, but plan to be wrong.

Workforce Attributes

One of the biggest challenges facing most nonprofit organizations is hiring and retaining qualified and committed employees. Nonprofit wages are generally below those in the public sector. Entry level positions such as direct support, food service, housekeeping, transportation, and other unskilled jobs are plagued by high turnover rates due to low wages and/or the temporary nature of the job as employees finish school or pursue higher paying jobs. Even professional positions in nursing, management, executive leadership, or skilled administrative functions experience turnover due to wages and benefits.

Who will your employees be in five years? Where will they come from? What are their age, educational attainment, and aspiration attributes? How loyal are they to your organization? Do they work two or three jobs to make a living? What personal and family challenges do they face that can impact their reliability or longevity? These and other questions should lead the organization to develop an employee profile for the future.


Where you provide services is the final critical planning element that warrants consideration for the future. If your organization is the only one of its type in a small town in northern South Dakota with the closest town of any size more than 50 miles away, this may not seem like much of an issue. At least it is quite different than if you are located in a suburb of the Chicago metropolitan statistical area containing ten million people. Regardless of your location, however, there are some important questions to ask yourself as you contemplate where you will provide services in the future?

If your services are facility-based, are there opportunities to grow by building or purchasing remote campuses? Can you “franchise” your service delivery model to others by creating a collaborative service agreement whereby you provide the service if they provide the capital? If your services are community-based and are not as dependent on buildings, are there population areas that need your kind of service? For example, if you serve chemically dependent children and their families through in-home services, your geographic footprint is probably determined more by how well you can manage your staff and the time it takes to drive to homes. This is also true of agencies that provide community-based residential services to people with IDD.

Finally, geography may be affected by collaborative efforts such as merger or acquisition. My own work in developmental disabilities began when I helped facilitate the affiliation and eventual merger of two large service providers, one in the Midwest and the other on the west coast. The resulting organization doubled the number of people supported and turned a regional provider into a national organization. On a smaller scale, geographic expansion may come about through competitive bidding for services, such as going after contracts to provide early childhood education. It may also come about through strategic acquisition, such as purchasing smaller for-profit agencies that help expand the niche of services. Whatever the circumstance, thinking deeply about location, facilities, geographic needs, reach potential, and acquisition opportunities will help eventually answer the question: “Where will we serve?”

You have been staring out your office window, gazing at the horizon, wondering about what tomorrow will bring, perhaps noodling about what challenges and opportunities await? You can’t help but worry about how your organization will respond and how well it will fit into that unknown future. I hope the foregoing has given you some food for thought as you contemplate your future. While we can’t know with certainty what will happen, we can be observers and learners who are attuned to changes in the world around us. We can make reasonable guesses as to what the future will look like. And, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, careful study of the trends in the areas I have described is an essential step in strategically thinking and acting to achieve your preferred future.

Next week – What does your environment look like today?



Question Two: How Are You Doing?

John Bauer May 28, 2017 blog, News No comments
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In my experience, too many strategic planning efforts jump straight into building a vision for the future without first carefully examining how well the current mission is being executed. To do so ignores present realities, both in the organization and in its environment, that may affect the organization’s ability to move toward its preferred future. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with projecting (some might call it dreaming or fantasizing) into the future. But one must be something of a realist in terms of understanding the world as it exists in the present, as well as how the organization contributes to improving that world. Taking a long hard look at how well your organization is carrying out its mission is a prerequisite to being able to chart a realistic path into the future.

Traditional approaches to strategic planning dictated that organizations do a SWOT analysis. I have previously expressed my disdain for SWOT as a tool for strategically evaluating an organization’s current status. I agree with Tom McLaughlin (2006, pp. 101-102), that weaknesses and threats are really management issues better addressed through risk mitigation processes, while strengths and opportunities are strategic issues requiring board and stakeholder engagement. Furthermore, a SWOT analysis doesn’t force reflection on the more important, foundational questions that are relevant for nonprofit, mission-driven organizations.

In my previous article (“What are you doing?) I talked about the importance of having a strong, clear mission statement. But measuring the impact of that mission isn’t the same as asking whether the mission is being fulfilled. For example, if asked if the organization is fulfilling its mission, who wouldn’t say “yes?” This is what I would call a “drive-by” question. “Fulfilling the mission?” Yep. Check the box. Done.

So the question isn’t “Are you fulfilling your mission?” The question is really, “What impact is your mission having on the people it is intended to serve?” Where in a SWOT analysis are you going to ponder that question? A related question might be, “How well are you executing your mission?” And a third related question is, “Can you sustain your mission?” There are ways to quantitatively answer those questions using tools such as those offered by Steve Zimmerman and Jeanne Bell (2015). I’m sure there are other ways. But you will note that these are types of question that go well beyond the typical review of the mission statement.

However, I am also not equating this kind of business model assessment with looking at key performance indicators or other metrics of efficiency. I’ll give you an example to make my point. Tracking RPMs on a tachometer, watching the fuel gauge, making sure the engine temperature is nominal, checking to see if the seat belts are fastened – these are all valuable metrics – to a point. But if the car is in neutral or is up on blocks, it isn’t actually performing the function for which it was built and such performance data is useless. The question isn’t how efficiently the car is running, but is it getting its passengers to their desired destination? If a car could have a mission statement it might be “To safely and comfortably transport passengers to their destination.” Obviously, it is possible that the car could be running smoothly while failing miserably to achieve its purpose.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong advocate of data-driven decision-making, having business intelligence systems that promote proactive thinking and acting, creating and using KPIs and all kinds of metrics to support anticipatory leadership. But efficient operation is not necessarily an indication that the organization is changing lives in the way that is implied or stated in the organization’s mission statement.

Getting closer to the heart of the question is the measurement of “quality.” Most nonprofit organizations track data around how their constituency groups perceive the quality of their services. These may come in the form of customer satisfaction surveys, third party assessments (often required by granting agencies), parent and guardian surveys, community needs assessments, etc. Such tools may provide some meaningful insights into the impact the organization’s programs are actually having on the people supported but in my experience, they more usually settle for measures of satisfaction and don’t provide data related to the actual impact missional programs are having on people’s lives.

Far from being a “drive-by” question, “How are you doing?” requires a deep analysis of the impact of the mission on the population and community being served. It requires deeper thinking around questions such as these posed by Zimmerman (pp. 50-51, 79):

  • If this agency didn’t exist, who would it matter to and why?
  • What is the social issue or human need the organization is trying to address?
  • What does success look like and how would you know?
  • Who are the primary direct beneficiaries of the organization?
  • What is the geographic region of your impact? What is the scope of service?
  • Are the missional programs delivered in an exceptional manner?
  • How profound is the change affected in people’s lives by the mission?
  • How many people are impacted by the mission?
  • Does the organization build community around its mission?
  • Does the organization leverage relationships around its mission?

So, how well are you doing? Ponder that question for a while before moving on. But taking the time to understand how much of an impact your organization is currently having is a necessary prerequisite to addressing the next question in my ten part list: “What will your environment look like in the future?”

As always, your thoughts and opinions are appreciated.

Works cited:

McLaughlin, T. Nonprofit Strategic Positioning. (2006). John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ.

Zimmerman, S., Bell, J. The Sustainability Mindset. (2015). Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

Question One: What Are You Doing?

John Bauer May 16, 2017 blog, News No comments
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So begins the journey into self-discovery and planning your preferred future.

I have been mildly surprised to hear nonprofit clients tell me, “We don’t have to mess around with reviewing the mission statement. Our board just went through that exercise. We’re fine with our current statement. Let’s just get on with writing a strategic plan.”

I certainly don’t wish to denigrate the efforts of CEOs and boards to evaluate their organizations’ mission statements, but the strategic planning process really does need to begin with a careful analysis of what the organization is doing, with whom, how, and why. Ideally, these questions have already been answered in a pithy, one sentence statement. It’s just that I’ve seen too many organization’s treat this exercise as nothing more than a necessary but annoying task that boards periodically conduct.  On the one hand, it may be viewed as an opportunity by a few to contrive a grandiloquent slogan.  On the other hand, the exercise may be greeted with disdain as if it has no relevance to what the organization does. One college president told me, “We don’t need a mission statement. Our mission statement is what we do every day.”

Let me suggest that “mission” for a nonprofit organization is the same as “profits” for private sector companies. Thought of in this manner, having a clear and effective mission statement for a nonprofit is as important as knowing product demand for a for-profit company. “If mission accomplishment is as important as profit attainment, why do most nonprofits not spend equivalent time in mission creation and monitoring? In reality, nonprofits often completely mess this up. As important as missions are, nonprofits frequently go off in ineffective directions by relying on mission statements that can be little more than slogans” (Pandolfi, 2011).

So, in the interest of launching strategic planning at the correct starting point, indulge me for a few minutes as I dig a little deeper into this first question: “What are you doing?” It seems to me that the starting point for strategic planning must be a consensus understanding of what the organization strives to accomplish by fulfilling its mission. Conversely, failure to seriously address the organization’s mission not only can undermine the strategic planning process, but will likely contribute to ambiguity of purpose in the minds of significant stakeholders. Without careful analysis of the organization’s mission, strategic planning itself will likely become an unprofitable academic exercise incapable of providing the focus and discipline needed to achieve the organization’s preferred future.

To understand the significance of such an analysis, consider a few mission-related questions: Why was your organization founded? Who started it and why? Are you doing the same thing today that the founders did on day one? With whom do carry out your mission? Do you serve the same population? What will this population look like in the future? Who supports your mission? How do they perceive your mission? What impact is your mission having? Can you demonstrate that you are fulfilling your mission? Can you measure the impact it has on the target population? What do you think your mission will look like in five or ten years? Is your mission sustainable? The mission statement of a nonprofit organization is the critical starting position from which to answer all those questions and upon which to build strategies to proactively prepare for the future.

So what is a mission statement and what are the attributes of an effective mission? Koenig suggests that every good mission statement has three pivotal elements:

  1. Our cause: Who? What? Where?
  2. Our actions: What we do.
  3. Our impact: Changes for the better.

He goes on to graphically illustrate the attributes of good and bad mission statements (figure 1).

(figure 1)

The most effective mission statements are written in a single sentence of 15 words or fewer and contain all three of those elements. Here are a few examples to make the point.

  • Public Broadcasting System: To create content that educates, informs and inspires.
  • Environmental Defense Fund: To preserve the natural systems on which all life depends.
  • CARE: To serve individuals and families in the poorest communities in the world.
  • And of course, TED: Spreading ideas.

More than just serving as an inspirational slogan that employees and donors can get behind, Pandolfi argues that “an effective mission statement must be a clear description of where an organization is headed in the future that distinctly sets it apart from other entities and makes a compelling case for the need it fills.” In other words, there are critical business reasons tied to the organization’s strategy. In the same way that a clear and effective strategy in the private sector attracts more customers which result in more profit, a nonprofit’s clear and effective strategy facilitates attraction of funds and provides the ability to take smart action.

And if you think mission statements are old fashioned, consider this. Recent research at Ohio University shows that Millennials especially are drawn to a strong mission. “Young employees want to believe their work is making a difference, whether they are in the for-profit or nonprofit sector. Good mission statements place the organization in the wider social context, and show how the work of the organization contributes to making society a better place” (Fritz).

An effective mission statement also allows a nonprofit organization to operate with focus and discipline by providing consistency in decision-making. It also suggests the means for measuring success and creates a shared understanding among all stakeholders that transcends time and place. In other words, an effective mission statement is translatable into measurable actions that everyone in the organization can understand, monitor, and influence.

One might also ask the question: “What would the world look like if we actually fulfilled our mission?” Would hunger cease? Would discrimination be eradicated? Would every child succeed in school? Contemplating such “mission exits” should lead organizations to think deeply about how they measure their success. A good mission statement should suggest what that world would look like if completely fulfilled.

Finally, I believe that the process of creating a mission statement is of equal importance to the end result. In the nonprofit world, boards of directors are the caretakers of the mission. CEOs are hired to advance the mission and make sure it is carried out. Staff are directed to manage processes which support the mission. Donors provide financial support for the cause described by the mission. All these participants have a stake (hence, the term “stakeholder”) in the success of the organization, either morally (boards, donors and volunteers) or practically (staff who are paid for their services). Engagement of all these stakeholder groups in the creation/review/analysis of the mission statement is one of the most effective ways available to build support and loyalty.

As a consultant, ever eager to serve my nonprofit clients, I have found it occasionally challenging to insist that the process begin with a thorough discussion and review of the organization’s mission statement. Invariably, however, when such a review conducted, it serves as the foundation to developing a robust and effective strategic plan.

Once the organization is clear about what it does, it can proceed to do a deeper dive into the remaining nine questions. Up next week: How well are you doing?

References Cited:

Fitz, Joanne. How to Write an Amazing Nonprofit Mission Statement. (online article at: (January 20, 2017)

Koenig, Marc. Nonprofit Mission Statements – Good and Bad Examples. (online article at: (2013)

Pandolfi, Francis. How to Create an Effective Non-Profit Mission Statement. Harvard Business Review. March 14, 2011)