We’ve all seen the dreaded cliche mission statements filled with vague, meaningless rhetoric. But you know as well as we do — nonprofits have to be different. Your work is not about brand loyalty or building confidence in your executive experience. You want to reach people, not customers. And if you connect with them effectively, they’ll join your mission as donors. Ultimately, this statement is part of your fundraising toolkit.
When creating a mission statement (sometimes conflated with “vision” statement) you might be tempted to throw around some well-worn industry talk. You’ve heard it all before: “We efficiently operationalize strategies and leverage our core competencies to holistically administer an exceptional brand trajectory for the consumer,” etc.
But you can do better. Here’s how.
What makes a good mission statement for nonprofits?
First of all, it’s got to be clear. Very, very clear. You’ve got to 1) tell donors your story; 2) convince them that you can make an impact; and 3) encourage them to support your work.
Second, make it concise. With a handful of exceptions, short and sweet is the most palatable kind of mission statement. Much like a great advertisement, it gets to the heart of your nonprofit work immediately — with minimal distracting decoration.
Third, make it useful. Every word counts, especially when you’re trying to tame the wandering eyes of phone-scrollers. Tell the potential gift-giver what they must know. What’s your service area? Which communities are you helping? And — perhaps most importantly — what do you want the reader to do now?
What are the 3 key elements of a strong nonprofit mission statement?
There are some key elements that — if you maintain a sharp focus on them — will keep you on course. You can capture your own unique voice by communicating your unique cause, the actions you take, and the impact you have. That’s what a potential donor wants to know: what do you do, exactly? What is the mission?
This is your who. Who are you fighting for? What community, habitat, or project gets you up in the morning? Donors have to know that this is something — or someone — worth going to bat for. “Save the Whales” and “Save the Children” might not sound very interesting. But you know who the work is for.
This is your how. What’s the action plan? Keep it verb-heavy. Maybe you’re going to educate new parents, promote policy changes, share resources, or protect an ecosystem. This action should directly serve the cause.
This is your so what. What’s the end result of the actions you took? Diseases might be cured, forests might continue thriving, or people might have homes to live in. But be sure you’ve thought about the very end result. It ties directly back to the cause. “Building houses” is not the impact. The impact is that families now have a safe place to live.
10 Outstanding Nonprofit Mission Statement Examples
Mission statements should be as varied as the organizations that launch them. But, sadly, many nonprofits fall into the habit of overgeneralizing. Here are 10 top-notch examples of nonprofit mission statements that are guaranteed to drive donations by getting the right message to the right people.
1. African Wildlife Foundation
“To craft and deliver creative solutions for the long-term well-being of Africa’s remarkable species, their habitats, and the people who depend upon them.”
AWF frames their work not only around the animals and their environment, but also the people that live among and from them. That’s an added impact that many conservation organizations forget to highlight.
The cause: protecting Africa’s unique species. The action: craft and deliver solutions. The impact: secure long-term well-being.
2. charity: water
“Bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries.”
The conciseness of this statement is part of its magic — just the facts in 11 words. Bonus points: favoring “developing” over terms like “third-world” or “underdeveloped” keeps the mission goal-oriented and emphasizes the respect that charity: water has for communities it serves.
The cause: safe water for developing countries. The action: bringing it. The impact is enormous, and clearly implied. No need to tell us what clean drinking water does for people — we’re with you.
3. Creative Commons
“Realizing the full potential of the internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.”
“Universal access” is the activating phrase here. In fact, it should probably lead the statement. Clear terms like education, participation, and growth bring to mind the young people who are going to change things for the better thanks to Creative Commons. One fallback: the multiple meanings of “realize” — one which is powerful (we make things happen) and one which is not (we are aware of things) leaves wiggle room that softens the impact.
The cause: universal access to online education. The actions: realizing the potential of digital information. Impact: a new era of development.
4. Eat.Learn.Play Foundation
“The Eat.Learn.Play. Foundation is committed to unlocking the potential of every child by fighting to end childhood hunger, ensuring students have access to a quality education, and providing safe places for all children to play and be active.”
Reflecting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Eat.Learn.Play is working from the ground up. Basic needs (food), allow for psychological needs (learning), and finally an area for self-fulfillment (creativity). Emphasizing play and physical activity brings to mind a group of kids that aren’t just fed — they’re thriving and happy. Bonus points: their name follows a research-based, developmental approach to child welfare.
The cause: unlocking children’s potential. The action: fighting to end hunger, ensuring education, providing safe places. The impact: kids are fed, taught, and happy.
5. Monterey Bay Aquarium
“To inspire conservation of the oceans.”
Though Monterey Bay Aquarium doesn’t spell out the impact here, we can infer it easily; we’re all familiar with the need to protect our waterways. You may be surprised to hear such a global mission statement coming from an aquarium, but — after all — these are science centers dedicated to conservation and education. That’s what all those field trips and family outings are for.
The cause: conserving the oceans. The action: inspire.
6. Polar Bears International
“Our mission is to conserve polar bears and the sea ice they depend on. Through media, science, and advocacy, we work to inspire people to care about the Arctic, the threats to its future, and the connection between this remote region and our global climate.”
If people have information, they’ll use it. This goes beyond an emotional plea — we already love polar bears. What a potential donor needs is the science backing it up and, particularly, the broader connection. In this case, Polar Bears International is looking out for the future of our planet. Bonus points: they’re connecting our desire to save furry animals (the emotional part) to a broader global need (the harder-to-sell concept).
The cause: protect polar bears and their habitat. The action: inspire people to care. The impact is implied.
“SafeBAE is a survivor-founded, student-led national organization whose mission is to end sexual assault among middle and high school students. As the only national peer-to-peer organization of its kind, it helps promote culture change by giving teens the tools to become activists and shift school culture through raising awareness about dating violence, sexual harassment and assault, affirmative consent, safe bystander intervention, survivor care, and their rights under Title IX.”
While this statement is longer than we’d typically advise, SafeBAE doesn’t waste any ink. The first sentence does most of the heavy lifting, with lots of supporting examples to follow. Every sentence is clear, helpful, and sparks engagement with urgent phrases. Bonus points: the hip use of bae, meaning a romantic partner.
The cause: end sexual assault among middle and high schoolers. The actions: give teens tools and raise awareness. The impact: a shift in school culture that prevents sexual assault.
8. Step Up for Students
“Step Up For Students empowers families to pursue and engage in the most appropriate learning options for their children, with an emphasis on families who lack the information and financial resources to access these options.”
Empowerment is critical here — and right up front. Even the most cynical gift-givers (turned off by the notion of a “hand-out”) see the potential in giving people resources to help themselves. Bonus points: Step Up for Students draws our attention toward the barriers to information and resources — something measurable and fixable. Donors like knowing what their money is doing and this highlights it precisely.
The cause: educational resources for economically at-risk kids. The actions: empower families. The impact: families find the best learning options for their children.
9. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
“The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment.”
This is one of the few we’ve seen that actually uses “mission” in the text, which frames the statement very clearly. The phrase “pediatric catastrophic diseases” is enough to get anybody reaching for their wallet, their eyes brimming with tears. Bonus points: incorporating “St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital” makes the statement copy-and-pasteable and extremely shareworthy without needing added context.
The cause: cure and prevent childhood diseases. The action: advance through research and treatment. The impact, which goes without saying, is certainly a mic drop.
10. The Trevor Project
“The Trevor Project fights to end suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning young people.”
Again, the impact here is implied — and strongly so. Notice the clarity and force of their wording. The Trevor Project doesn’t speak of “protecting lives” — they want to “end suicide.” Not only is it concise and clear — it’s urgent and motivating.
The cause: ending suicide among queer youth. The action: fight.
Work with a team that gets nonprofit marketing
Nonprofits aren’t like other companies. We understand the unique challenges and successes you face. We also understand how to get the big financial wins that keep your nonprofit moving forward.
The marketing team at Big Sea will help maintain connections with your existing donors, and amplify your mission statement to reach new audiences. Contact us to take your nonprofit to the next level.