Using Mission for Decision Making

We believe that everything flows from mission – everything. From hiring and budgeting to programming and fundraising, all of the organization’s efforts should be driven by this north star and defined by the singular pursuit of mission fulfillment.

According to Peter Drucker, mission is “why you do what you do, not the means by which you do it,” which is an important distinction to make. A mission statement should not be a 100-word litany of all the things an organization does. No. It should be a succinct and compelling statement of purpose; why the organization exists.

When an organization can focus on “why,” then clarity for operations and governance can be achieved.

A question we get asked is this – who is responsible for crafting a mission statement? If the mission is critical for decision making, then shouldn’t the chief executive and senior staff, who are closest to the work, be the ones to write it? The answer is a resounding “no.”

BoardSource is the authority on nonprofit board governance, and in its writings, the first role and responsibility of a nonprofit board is to “determine mission and purpose, and advocate for them.”

Peter Drucker concurs. The following quote is from his book Managing the Nonprofit Organization –

“To be effective, a nonprofit needs a strong board, but a board that does the board’s work. The board not only helps think through the institution’s mission, it is the guardian of that mission, and makes sure the organization lives up to its basic commitment.”

Defining and fulfilling the mission is a fundamental responsibility of board leadership and should be the cornerstone of the board-chief executive constructive partnership.

The chief executive must have a clear understanding of purpose and direction, and then guide the rest of the staff in their daily work to achieve the mission and realize the vision.

We recommend creating a decision-making funnel to serve as a tool.

  1. Needs assessment, how leadership knows that a need exists
  2. Mission, vision, and values, which define the organization’s role in meeting that need
  3. Project scope, capacity and resources to meet the need
  4. Program plan, outcomes and activities to be accomplished
  5. Facility designation, where the activities will take place
  6. Service delivery, how the activities will occur
  7. Impact measurement, how the activities will be evaluated

While this outline may seem to apply only to programs and projects, it can be adapted to all facets of operations. The key is to begin with data – what information do you have that warrants a decision – and then to use mission, vision, and values as a lens before diving into resource allocation or program design.

In doing so, everything will flow from mission.

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