Expert Tips

Is it Time to Kill your Mission Statement?

By Mike Duerksen, BuildGood

If your mission statement isn’t actually giving people a mission, it’s time to replace it with a clear and compelling short story. 

Here’s a fun exercise. Ask 10 different people in your organization to see if they can recall your actual mission statement. How many of them got it right?

Chances are, few of them got close. If they did, you’re doing something right, my friend—and you can probably stop reading right here.

But if you got 10 different answers from 10 different people, or if you got a lot of fumbling replies, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. That’s because many nonprofits use so much jargon in their mission statement, that some of the very same people who wrote it (likely by committee) can’t remember it.

Sometimes they use lofty language with the hopes of casting a bold vision and creating a unifying rallying cry, but it ends up sounding so outlandish that nobody really knows what it means. Or they make the mission statement so broad and vague that it becomes meaningless.

But here’s the thing: without a clear mission statement, you can’t compel people to go on a mission.

That’s because people rarely choose confusion. Our brains crave clarity and simplicity. We prefer to see where we are going, and why it matters.

Let’s look at an example.

This is not an actual mission statement—the wording has been changed. But it’s pretty close to the current mission statement of an organization that provides emergency food for hungry children.

We exist to provide client-centered long-term solutions to food insecurity by collecting and distributing food, and advocating and informing. 

Now ask yourself, do you really feel compelled to know more?

Or did you tune out by the time you finished reading “client-centered long-term solutions?”

Make no mistake, having a mission statement full of insider language has real-world negative consequences.

If your mission statement is too complicated or vague or confusing, your team will never be able to repeat it—much less your donors. Your board, staff and volunteers won’t move in the same direction. People won’t know where you are going—and why it matters.

And few people on your team will be able to easily tell your nonprofit’s story in a clear and compelling way.

So how do you fix it?

Write a short story your team can memorize and easily repeat. It’s a format most of our brains are already very familiar with. Stories are memorable because they follow a similar pattern. A character wants something, but is facing a problem. The negative consequences of not solving that problem are disastrous. If they take action and solve the problem, it’s a comedy. But if they don’t, and they fail, it’s a tragedy.

It’s a tale as old as time. Even the Bible is one big redemption story.

You can use this format to create a version of a mission statement that is easy to remember—and that actually compels people to join the mission.

Here’s how. You’ll want to start by defining the following in the simplest and clearest language you can:

1.    The problem your beneficiaries are facing, or the problem you’re solving in the world
2.    The negative consequences of not fixing that problem
3.    The action you take to solve the problem
4.    The end result if the problem is solved

Let’s re-write the jargon-filled mission statement from above using this 4-step process.

1.    Problem: children don’t have enough to eat
2.    Negative consequences: without food, they won’t be healthy
3.    Action: provide food in schools
4.    Result: no child goes to bed hungry

It’s not perfect, but you can see how we’ve got the raw ingredients to create a compelling short story.

As a reminder, here’s the original mission statement:

We exist to provide client-centered long-term solutions to food insecurity by collecting and distributing food, and advocating and informing. 

And here’s the new one:

Many children in your community don’t have enough to eat. But without enough food, they won’t be healthy. And that’s just not right. We collect surplus food to create emergency food hampers for hungry children in schools across our city. So no child goes to bed hungry.

You’ll notice the new mission statement is actually longer than the original one. And it can still use some work. But it’s already a lot to easier to understand.

What makes the difference?

Clear and simple language. The original mission statement scores at a grade 11 reading level. The new one scores at a grade 3 reading level. That means it’s a lot simpler for the brain to understand, remember and take action.

And it follows the structure of story. Most people will be able to repeat a very similar version of it, even if it’s in their own words.

Remember, making your mission statement easy to understand and repeat is an act of generosity for your staff, donors and the people you’re helping.

You might not be ready to truly kill your mission statement. That’s ok. But consider creating a short story version of your mission that you repeat frequently with your staff and volunteers and donors.


Because if you choose clarity over confusion…and simplicity over complexity…your staff and donors will reward you with their attention. Their gifts. Their loyalty. And maybe, someday, their legacy.

Mike Duerksen, BuildGood

Helping you Raise More Money so you can do More Good


Mike Duerksen is the founder of, a fundraising agency that helps nonprofits grow their revenue from individual donors. You can get his FREE video mini-course to help nonprofit leaders like you create compelling fundraising messages that move donors to action at

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