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Pop quiz: Can you recite your organization’s mission statement from memory? If you find yourself struggling to recall every word, you’re not alone. Many associations are weighed down by outdated, ineffective mission statements that are impossible to remember. 

Without a clear sense of purpose, associations can begin to drift away from their goals. Employees might struggle to stay aligned around a central mission, and the public might even be confused about what value your association provides.

Fortunately, there’s a silver lining: It’s never too late to refresh your association’s mission statement. If you want to bring your association up to date, it might even be time to toss your mission statement altogether. Instead, consider articulating your association’s core purpose.

While a traditional mission statement might attempt to summarize your association’s contribution, audience, and unique value, a core purpose statement is much simpler. If you craft a core purpose statement carefully, you’ll be able to bring it to life within your association every single day. 

Check out these three common mission statement pitfalls, and learn how a smart core purpose can become central to your association’s daily operations:

Mission statement mistake #1: Choosing a weak verb

Nothing is less inspiring than a core purpose weighed down by boring verbs. If your mission statement relies on various forms of “be,” you’re missing a key opportunity to inspire action within your association.

By contrast, a core purpose uses strong verbs employees can embody on a daily basis. Consider using lively, action-packed verbs such as:

  • Inspire
  • Improve
  • Create
  • Nurture
  • Accelerate
  • Spread

It’s easy to picture daily operations aligning with each of these verbs. 

An educational campaign might inspire action, spread knowledge or improve people’s lives.

A fundraiser might accelerate research into a cure for a disease. 

A conference might nurture new relationships, leading to long-term collaborations and partnerships.

By placing an action verb at the heart of your core purpose, you’ll instantly help employees understand how it applies to their daily lives. 

Mission statement mistake #2: Getting too wordy

Part of what makes traditional mission statements so difficult to remember is they’re simply too long. Your core purpose should be easily summarized in eight words or less. Otherwise, it will be nearly impossible to live out on a daily basis.

Consider TED’s core purpose: “Spread ideas.” 

Those two words sum up the entire organization’s mission in an active, simple phrase. As TED launches new projects — from conferences to video series — it’s easy to see how each accomplishes this core purpose.

When employees can easily remember your core purpose, they’ll be able to apply it each and every day.

Mission statement mistake #3: Listing every possible goal 

Too often, mission statements can become overwrought, irrelevant or even generic. After all, many associations share similar business goals. 

Your core purpose should instantly explain why your association exists. By articulating why your work matters, your core purpose will motivate employees to work toward a common goal. 

Ikea’s core purpose is to “Create a better everyday life for many people.” Whether Ikea employees are assisting customers in the brick-and-mortar locations or designing comfortable furniture, they can all keep this core purpose in mind. 

It’s okay if your ultimate goal feels lofty. In fact, a well-crafted core purpose might be a goal you won’t be able to fully achieve. That’s what makes it ambitious, compelling and inspiring for employees and members alike. 

If your association has outgrown its mission statement, it’s time to articulate a core purpose you can truly bring to life.

Heather Nolan
Post by Heather Nolan
September 15, 2020
Heather a skilled communicator with expertise in social media and marketing strategy, brand management and journalism. She uses storytelling and audience growth skills to help companies showcase their brand and expand their reach.