Why Mission Matters - The Bullseye Principle
As promised in last month’s installment, this month we begin unpacking 10 principles that promote sustainability. We view sustainability like a puzzle. Every organization has at least some of the pieces in place. However, from our vantage point, we realize that many leaders aren’t sure what the finished puzzle should look like -- it’s like assembling a puzzle without the picture on the box top to guide the process. They aren’t sure where to begin addressing their sustainability planning. When I start a puzzle I first locate the corner pieces. Not only are they the easiest to locate, but more importantly they bring structure and order to the rest of the puzzle. You may be surprised by our starting point, but I encourage you to not skip this step thinking, “oh we got that.”
Let me ask you:
What’s the most important question to ask regarding your organization?
What’s the most desirable trait you look for in board members?
What the one critical theme or thread that should be found in every board and staff meeting of your organization?
According to management guru Peter Drucker the most important question every organization must ask and answer
is What is Our Mission?
This question comes first in his classic book, The Five Most Important Questions
and Drucker’s insights applied to all organizations -- not just nonprofits. However, I suggest this question is paramount for nonprofit organizations since their primary purpose is mission fulfillment.
How do you
answer the what is our mission question
? My fear is that many in the nonprofit ranks immediately try to repeat verbatim the carefully crafted words in the beautifully framed document that adorns some special -- almost sacred -- place, the mission statement
. There has been such an emphasis on carefully crafting every word and getting the mission statement just right that like there is something magical and mystical inherent in the very statement itself.
However, if you take careful note - Drucker did not ask what’s your mission statement? Please don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having a mission statement. The problem for many leaders and organizations is that the mission statement is enshrined in formal places -- the website, the letterhead, or the lobby -- but not inscribed in the hearts of the leaders and staff.
Mission is the heartbeat of your organization.
Mission is your reason for being -- it’s the question of ultimate purpose.
Why does your organization exist?
What do you seek to accomplish? Save the “how we do it” for a later conversation; for now focus solely on the purpose.
How you answer the what is our mission question
is of vital importance and significance; as a matter of fact it’s the fundamental starting point for your sustainability planning. If your organization lacks clarity on the mission, everything else is irrelevant. Without this answer, your question becomes sustain what?
Being clear about why your organization exists is the essential first step an organization takes towards sustainability. We call it as you must be able to identify the target that serves to focus all of your energies and efforts. The bullseye is the center of target. In competitive sports, like archery, the highest score is awarded to shots hitting the bullseye and each successively larger concentric circle scores fewer points.
While not every shot hits the bullseye, it serves as the central focus and every shot is aimed for the bullseye. This is an area of primary application for clarity of mission for nonprofit organizations. It’s one thing to move in a general direction; it’s altogether different to move towards a given target. As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up somewhere else.”
Clarity about your mission provides focus and freedom. The focus comes from being clear about your primary aim -- and being intentional and disciplined to filter all decisions based on your intended target. This focus results in your organization developing a strategy for how to best use your resources to advance and fulfill your mission.
This also results in freedom that takes two forms - freedom to say yes to those opportunities that move you closer towards your target and freedom to say no to the distractions that, while thought they may be good activities, do not get you closer to your goal. Therefore they are not good activities for your organization.
The bullseye for an organization should be visible as the mission should be the central focus for all
activities. The mission should be the rallying point in and for every board and staff meeting. We encourage organizations to be creative in how they keep the mission central. Here are a few suggestions for keeping the mission central:
- Print the mission on the top of the agenda for all board and staff meetings.
- Include mission moments in every board meeting. A mission moment is a personal experience or encounter with your organization’s impact. Invite clients, former clients, staff members, volunteers, or partners to tell their stories and show how your organization is making a difference and moving closer to your bullseye.
- Collect success stories of those impacted by your organization -- make a mission wall of fame in your office with their stories and pictures. A couple of years ago, The Next Door (Nashville, TN) allowed their women to tell their stories using cardboard testimonies at their annual fundraiser and that drove the mission into the hearts of everyone in the room.
- Print the mission on all business cards (several organizations print it on the back side of their cards).
- Use the mission as the chief criterion for recruiting prospective board members. Make sure they have passion for the organization’s mission!
I believe it’s absolutely essential to invest whatever time its takes to get this clear for your organization. As Lilya Wagner put it, “Quite simply, unless an organization has a clear idea of its purpose and strategy, it will never reach its full potential.” The starting point for your sustainability planning is to clearly identify your bullseye -- to clarify your purpose and strategy.
How are you doing managing your mission? Does your mission continue to serve as true north for your organization and guide all aspects of your organization?
Perhaps you should conduct a check up to assess how well you’re focusing on your mission as the bullseye of your organization. You can do this informally through conversations by asking board, staff, and volunteers what is our mission? If you hear the same answer repeatedly, you’re aiming at the same thing. [You may need to do more work to make sure you’re aiming at the right thing, but at least there’s agreement.] If you hear a variety of answers, then you know you have work to do to clarify the mission and get everyone on the same page aiming for the same target.
If you need assistance with your mission check up contact us to schedule a mission check-up. It’s a great first step towards addressing your sustainability.