Mission statements are required part of non-profit organizations, but I’ve often found that they’re treated like death and taxes–inevitable but you don’t want to think about it. In museums and historic sites, you can tell when they’re particularly useless when you can swap the name of the organization with another and it still makes sense. Good mission statements are distinctive, memorable, and passionate. They have to help you make decisions–is this project, activity, donor, or partnership right for us? They have to go beyond “collect, preserve, and interpret” and describe what you want your audience to “think, feel, and do“. Creating a good mission statement isn’t easy and examples are hard to come by, so when I find them, I collect them like golden eggs.
When I visited James Madison’s Montpelier last week, I learned they adopted a new mission statement. Developed as part of their strategic planning process by a small team of trustees and staff, it was then shared with the entire board and staff for comment and revision before it was adopted by the board of trustees. I thought it was so good I wanted to share it as an exemplar:
Our mission is to inspire continuing public engagement with American constitutional self-government by bringing to life the home and contributions of James and Dolley Madison.
Yes, there’s a bit of jargon that requires some explanation but it’s so much better than the previous one:
The Montpelier Foundation preserves the legacy of James Madison, his family, and
Montpelier’s plantation community, and seeks to inspire an understanding and
commitment to the ideals of the Constitution as the first successful form of self
governance to secure liberty for its citizens. The Foundation’s mission is founded on
the fact that the Constitution is a landmark in the history of mankind’s quest to achieve
freedom. James Madison, the individual most responsible for the Constitution,
provided both the innovative ideas central to its success and the leadership that
brought about its creation and ratification.
Yikes. Try to fit that on the back of a business card.