Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

June 10, 2021

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Paul Zilz

Board Focus: Aspirational Mission Statement or Targeted Results?

Everybody appreciates an aspirational mission statement! Boards and staff often spend significant time developing and refining a mission statement that best captures what the organization does for others. And a mission statement is indeed very useful for branding and a key element for effective fundraising.

But I would argue that your board’s time would best be focused on specific types of targeted outcomes and results instead of your mission statement. Why?

Increasingly, those funding your organization’s efforts want to know about the actual results received by those served by your organization. They want to see funds being deployed in such a way that the intended results are being achieved. They want to know that the people your organization serves are actually better off because your organization exists.! This is a practical rationale for focusing on outcomes for the people being served by your organization.

Secondly, your board has a moral obligation to ensure it is focused on those outcomes most valued by those who have “ownership” in the organization. For example, if you are a membership organization such as a church or trade association, those owners would include your legal members. If you are a “for impact” organization, those owners might be members of the community and consistent, long-term funders. Your board does not exist to serve its own desires but rather should be the informed agent of and accountable to the actual “owners” of the organization on whose behalf the board is serving.

Therefore, it is important for practical funding reasons and because you have a moral obligation to your owners that your board focuses on the results received by those served and does not become pre-occupied with the details of providing services or various activity measures.

While a mission statement states what your organization intends to do, a board would be wise to focus on the targeted results that will be produced for those served by your organization. Specifically, your board should identify three components: 1) The beneficiaries who should be receiving the benefits provided by your organization, 2) The actual benefits the recipients should receive, and 3) The worth of producing those benefits for those recipients. As shorthand, let’s call statements related to these three items, Ends.

Mission statements focus on the organization’s work, whereas Ends focus on the benefits received by those served by the organization. To clarify, a school might say it teaches students to read. But wouldn’t it be more effective to determine whether or not students can proficiently read at grade level? In other words, a school can invest significant resources toward teaching, but the board should want to know, on behalf of its owners, whether or not the students have actually acquired the intended knowledge and skills.

In order to make this assessment, once the board has identified those strategic and future-focused Ends, the board should take the following steps:

  • Delegate to the CEO the development and implementation of a strategic plan within boundaries of ethics and prudence established by the board to achieve those Ends.
  • Monitor achievement of the CEO’s reasonable interpretation of those Ends to ensure the benefits intended to be received are indeed received by the beneficiaries!  

No more measuring activity! Instead, the board monitors the actual achievement of results for those served by your organization!

When your board focuses on the actual benefits being received by those served, you can accountably report back to your owners the results being achieved. And those results provide powerful examples when the CEO and staff are demonstrating to potential funders how that well-articulated mission statement they crafted results in actual improvement in the well-being of those your organization serves. The demonstrated achievement of a CEO’s reasonable interpretation of Ends provides solid evidence to potential funders that the mission statement is not just pie-in-the-sky; the evidence showing achievement of the Ends clearly and powerfully demonstrates the organization is serious about improving the lives of those it serves.

If your board wants to improve its ability to govern accountably with a strategic and future-focused perspective toward adding value for those your organization serves, please contact us.

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