An organization’s mission statement should clearly communicate what it is that they do. Many mission statements succumb to an overuse of words in general, but especially jargon. Good mission statements should be clear, concise, and useful. Some might also add “inspiring” to the list of descriptors. We don’t altogether disagree, but we find that including this as upfront criteria often ends up with a Frankenstein that is a part mission, part vision statement (desired end-state), and almost always too long.

What is a Mission Statement?

A mission statement is a one-sentence statement describing the reason your organization or program exists. (What you do + who/what you do this for).

 

What is the Purpose of a Mission Statement?

Mission statements serve 3 primary functions, each geared to different audiences.

Inform External Audiences of What You Do – Your mission statement is a great way to summarize what your org is about, providing context for follow-up information on programs and services.

Focus & Motivate Your Team – Staff and volunteers want to believe in the work they do. Your mission statement should be easy for staff & volunteers to understand, remember, and own.

Guide Strategic Planning & Decisions – By definition, you cannot prioritize everything. Your mission statement should serve as the leadership team’s guiding star when considering priorities and new initiatives.

3 Guidelines for Creating a Great Mission Statement

We have been studying mission statements for years and are passionate about helping nonprofits and businesses alike create truly effective mission statements. We have distilled our experience into the following 3 guidelines for creating a Great Mission Statement.

Clear (Easy to Understand) This is not a time to show off your vocabulary. Use concrete language and keep things simple. Try to keep to an 8th-grade reading level (avoid anything over 10th grade).

    • Avg length for the full 50 organizations listed here is only 15.3 words (excluding brand references)
    • Avg length for the first 20 organizations below is only 9.5 words (excluding brand references).
    • The shortest contains only two words (TED)
    • The longest contained 235 words (UNHCR)

Concise (Short & To-the-Point) Don’t fall prey to buzzwords, adjective strings and fluff. Aim for 5-14 words, 20 max. This is often the hardest part, but anything longer and you undermine its utility.

Useful (Inform. Focus. Guide.) It doesn’t matter how short, clear, or cute your phrase is if it fails to inform others about what you do and focus and guide internal team members and decisions.

 

50 Mission Statements from Top Nonprofits

TED: Spread Ideas. (2 words)
*Too short for readability grading, but clearly easy to understand.

Smithsonian: The increase and diffusion of knowledge. (6 words)
Readability grade; A. 100% Reach. 8th-grade reading level.

Monterey Bay Aquarium: To inspire conservation of the oceans. (6)
Grade B. 97% Reach. 8th-grade reading level.

Human Rights Watch defends the rights of people worldwide (6)
Grade A. 100% Reach. 6th-grade reading level.

Wounded Warrior Project: To honor and empower wounded warriors. (6)
Grade C. 84% Reach. 10th-grade reading level.

USO lifts the spirits of America’s troops and their families. (9)
Grade A. 100% Reach. 8th-grade reading level.

Kiva: To expand financial access to help underserved communities thrive (9)
Grade C. 84% reach. 11th-grade reading level.

Human Rights Campaign Working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. (9)
Grade E. 44% reach. 14th-grade (college sophomore) reading level.

AARP: To enhance quality of life for all as we age. (10)
Grade A. 100% reach. 5th-grade reading level.

MoMA: To share great modern and contemporary art with the public (10)
Grage A. 100% reach. 7th-grade reading level.

Oxfam: To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice. (10)
Grade C. 80% reach. 11th-grade reading level.

charity: water: Bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. (10)
Grade B. 88% reach. 10th-grade reading level.

The Alzheimer’s Association leads the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia (10)
Grade A. 100% reach. 6th-grade reading level.

Environmental Defense Fund: To preserve the natural systems on which all life depends. (10)
Grade A. 100% reach. 7th-grade reading level.

Candid (Guidestar + Foundation Center) Candid gets you the information you need to do good. (10)
Grade A: 100% reach. 5th-grade reading level.

New York Public Library: To inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities. (10)
Grade C. 71% reach. 13th-grade (college freshman) reading level.

Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) to provide lifesaving medical care to those most in need. (10)
Grade A. 100% reach. 8th-grade reading level.

March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. (11)
Grade A. 100% reach. 3rd-grade reading level.

The Humane Society: We fight the big fights to end suffering for all animals. (11)
Grade A. 100% Reach. 6th-grade reading level.

The Nature Conservancy: To conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. (11)
Grade A. 100% reach. 5th-grade reading level.

San Diego Zoo is a conservation organization committed to saving species around the world. (11)
Grade D. 60% reach. 12th-grade reading level.

CARE: To serve individuals and families in the poorest communities in the world. (12)
Grade C. 80% reach. 10th-grade reading level.

American Heart Association: To be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.(12)
Grade A. 100% reach. 7th-grade reading level.

Best Friends Animal Society: to bring about a time when there are no more homeless pets. (12)
Grade A. 100% Reach. 3rd-grade reading level.

National Wildlife Federation: Uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world (12)
Grade C. 80% reach. 8th-grade reading level.

National Parks Conservation Association: To protect and enhance America’s National Park System for present and future generations. (13)
Grade D. 62% reach. 11th-grade reading level.

JDRF: To find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research. (14)
Grade A. 100% reach. 9th-grade reading level.

Heifer International: To work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth. (14)
Grade A. 100% reach. 7th-grade reading level.

Invisible Children: to end the violence and exploitation facing our world’s most isolated and vulnerable communities (14)
Grade E. 53% Reach. 13th-grade (college freshman) reading level.

ASPCA: To provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. (15)
Grade C. 80% reach. 11th-grade reading level.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. (15)
Grade D. 68% reach. 11th-grade reading level

Amnesty International: To undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of these rights. (15)
Grade C. 80% reach. 11th-grade reading level.

St. Jude Research Hospital: To advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment (15)
Grade D. 68% reach. 13th-grade (college junior)

Girls Scouts: Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. (16)
Grade B. 100% reach. 9th-grade reading level.

American Diabetes Association: To prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. (16)
Grade B. 92% reach. 10th-grade reading level.

World Wildlife Fund: to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth (16)
Grade B. 100% reach. 8th-grade reading level.

Habitat for Humanity International: Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope. (16)
Grade D. 68% reach. 11th-grade reading level.

In Touch Ministries: To lead people worldwide into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and to strengthen the local church. (17)
Grade B. 87% reach. 9th-grade reading level.

Creative Commons helps overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity to address the world’s pressing challenges. (17)
Grade D. 66% reach. 12th-grade reading level.

Cleveland Clinic: To provide better care of the sick, investigation into their problems, and further education of those who serve. (18)
Grade C. 77% reach. 10th-grade reading level.

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF fights for the survival and development of the world’s most vulnerable children and protects their basic human rights. (18)
Grade C. 77% reach. 11th-grade reading level.

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. (18)
Grade D. 57% reach. 13th-grade (college freshman) reading level.

NRDC: to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. (19)
Grade B. 91% reach. 10th-grade reading level

Teach for America: Growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education. (20)
Grade C. 77% reach. 11th-grade reading level.

Save the Children: To inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives. (20)
Grade B. 95% reach. 9th-grade reading level.

Ducks Unlimited conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people. (20)
Grade E. 53% reach. 13th-grade (college freshman) reading level.

American Museum of Natural History: To discover, interpret, and disseminate—through scientific research and education—knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe. (20)
Grade E. 37% reach. 13th-grade (college junior) reading level.

Make-A-Wish: We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. (21)
Grade C. 72% reach. 12th-grade reading level.

American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. (21)
Grade E. 34% reach. 14th-grade (college sophomore) reading level.

Feeding America: To feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger. (22)
Grade C. 80% reach. 10th-grade reading level.

Susan G Komen for the Cure save lives by meeting the most critical needs in our communities and investing in breakthrough research to prevent and cure breast cancer. (22)
Grade C. 76% reach. 11th-grade reading level.

Audubon: To conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. (24)
Grade E. 26% reach. 15th-grade (college junior) reading level.

Mayo Clinic: Inspiring hope and promoting health through integrated clinical practice, education and research. (12)
Grade E. 50% reach. 15th-grade (college sophomore) reading level.

Metropolitan Museum of Art collects, studies, conserves, and presents significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas. (24)

The Rotary Foundation: To enable Rotarians to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty. (24)
Grade E. 37% reach. 15th-grade (college junior) reading level.

Boy Scouts of America: To prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law. (25)
Grade C. 73% reach. 11th-grade reading level.

NPR: To work in partnership with member stations to create a more informed public – one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures. (28)
Grade E. 40% reach. 14th-grade (college sophmore) reading level.

Related Articles:

30 Example Vision Statements
Guide to Creating a Mission Statement

What does this mean for you?

Is your mission statement longer than 20 words? Can you get it below 15? Below 10? Design it to clearly communicate what you do in such a way that people can remember it and communicate this to others. If you can’t get a mission statement below 15 words, consider also creating a mission tagline (2-6 words) which people can more easily remember.

Download our FREE  Mission Statement Toolkit 

Definitions

Readability grade is Readable.com’s bespoke rating system grade text from A to E for readability. According to their recommendations, text aimed at the general public should be grade B or better.

Reach also comes from readable.com and measures the proportion of the literate general public, so a reach of 100% means your content is readable by about 85% of the public (that being the percentage that are literate)

Reading grade level is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. A score of around 10-12 is roughly the reading level on completion of high school. Text to be read by the general public should aim for a grade level of around 8 (source Readable).

How the list was compiled

  • Mission statements were gathered for each of the top 100 nonprofits (based on a series of web, social, and transparency metrics) and then evaluated for content and length.
  • The top 50 were then selected for this list based on length and organized roughly from shortest to longest (based on the number of characters).
  • The number in parenthesis at the end of each line depicts the number of non-branded words included in their mission statement.
  • In order to standardize the list, we removed things like “[Brand’s] mission is” or “The mission statement of [Brand]” when it created redundancy.

Related Articles:

30 Example Vision Statements
Guide to Creating a Mission Statement