Mission Impossible: What’s Your Why?

How hard can it be to write a mission statement? After all, it’s just a statement about who you are, your reason for being, your core purpose. Not hard at all. Unless you’ve tried it…

Crafting a solid mission takes time and thought; it should be something your entire team can understand, embrace and live by. It should be a foundation, a decision filter, and a reference guide to keep your organization aligned.

A university study of 162 mission statements from AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums conducted more than 10 years ago found that these statements were anywhere from 153 words long (!!!) to as few as five words, with an average length of 37 words and a reading level score of grade 16 or higher.

That’s not what we’d suggest today. We’ve read and researched countless mission statements from nonprofits and corporations to identify examples of excellence, and we’ve worked with many zoos and aquariums in drafting their missions. What we’ve found are lots of similarities and lots of differences in length and in impact.

A quick scan of some recent clients’ mission statements revealed a range from 32 words to six, with an average of 17 words. A snapshot of a few corporate mission statements had similar results—statements under 20 words, with most clustering around 11-12 words. Obviously, our sample size is smaller, but the trend is clear—less is more.

We recommend that you have some fun developing your mission—go off-site, spend enough time, assemble a diverse team of colleagues, throw words on the wall and see what sticks. Enjoy some libations if that’s your thing…test your results with friends and colleagues, rewrite, and try gain.

Zoo Advisors has honed our process for developing mission statements over the years. An early step in our strategic planning process is developing mission, beginning with the client’s current mission statement and testing its relevance, its timeliness, its “stickiness”. We’ll help identify key words that resonate, explore examples from highly admired or successful organizations and corporations for inspiration, and draft several versions of potential statements, continuing to test and refine the work over the early stages of the project until we’ve arrived at a final draft that “fits” and hopefully, excites.

To get you started, this piece from 2018 is great background reading, with some good examples:

We’re here to assist you to craft this all-important foundation for your organization!