Nonprofit organizations are built around meeting goals that converge to complete a mission. This is outlined in the organization’s mission statement. Mission statements will vary greatly from one organization to the next. In nonprofits, the mission is usually to provide a service for needs that are not otherwise being met. It should describe what the organization does, who is served, how they are served. Potential clients, funders, and the overall community can read a mission statement and know what the organization is all about.
Organizations big and small will be faced with decisions of every kind throughout their operation. Some will find themselves needing to partner with other organizations to remain open, some might be faced with leadership that is not fulfilling the mission, and others may have disagreement on the goals of the mission itself. A mission statement should be both broad enough that changes in service can be made, and narrow enough to fulfill a specific need in the community. The importance of developing a strong mission statement at the establishment of the organization cannot be emphasized enough. This will be the foundation through which all other decisions are made.
Sometimes a situation of mission drift can occur. This is when an organization is pressured, either internally or externally, to change or expand their services. Marshall Jones (2007) gave a good example of mission drift in the Hershey School. Trustees of the school for orphaned children were fulfilling their mission. However, a proposal was made to expand the school into a research and teaching institute (Jones, 2007). While this was innovative and planned for all the right reasons, it was considered mission drift. The trustees wanted to use their assets to reach more children through education of caregivers, however the school’s alumni association felt it was an unneccisary expansion that didn’t actually meet the mission. This is a good example of how having more than ample money to complete the original mission can sometimes lead to mission drift.
Mission drift can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Organization leaders may be tempted into changes from their environment. An example of this is if a mega-donor would like to see their money used for a program that doesn’t align with the organization’s mission statement. The organization may need the gift to operate their current programs. If the donors wishes are granted and a new program is offered that is oppositional to the mission, this could create real problems for the organization. While the mega-donor is pleased other, perhaps more long-standing donors may not be happy with the changes. Additionally, grant funders may see that the mission is not being met and will not reinstate future funds. In the right situation, this could put the organization at a big risk for closing.
The takeaway message is that a clear mission should be developed upon the establishment of the organization. If changes need to be made, recognizing the implications for the changes is vital to the livelihood of the organization.
Jones, M. B. (2007). The multiple sources of mission drift. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 36, 299-307.