I’ve spoken with some schools that have said the past few Marketing Matters have been a bit bolder than they have in the past.  Perhaps some folks are uncomfortable with that.

If anything here makes your uncomfortable, that’s a good thing!  It’s only when someone is uncomfortable that they realize something has to change.

So here’s something else to make you uncomfortable – You know that mission statement that you spent weeks or months crafting?  Well, if it fills a small poster board, your efforts were either a waste of time, or you didn’t spend enough time on it.

This is where you say, “What? Are you serious?”

Indeed.  Author Steven R. Covey (“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “The 8th Habit”) states that an organization’s mission statement focuses on the “who” and “what” of an organization.  About 25 years ago, Ron Meshanko wrote the following about mission statements:

I give board trainings all over the country and begin each session with a quiz, the first question being, write your agency mission statement.  99% of the time, not one person – sometimes even the executive director – can write down in clear, succinct language the mission statement of the agency. (Source: http://connectbrevard.org/PubApps/nonprofitfaq.php?i=66&c=5; Accessed April 26, 2020)

If an organization’s administrators and executives can’t communicate the mission of their organization, then how can people lobby on its behalf, or ask for a gift?

A Mission Statement should be a one-sentence, clear, concise statement that says “who” the organization is (the name, that it is a nonprofit, and what type of organization it is), what it does, for whom and where. That’s all.

Clear – concise – one sentence.  One of the LinkedIn groups I belong to asked its members to say what they do in 7 words.  My response: “Help schools form a firm financial foundation.”  That’s SchoolAdvancement.com’s Mission Statement.

Interestingly, according to The Balance Small Business, a Mission Statement answers three questions: Why your business exists, what does it do, and how it does it.  It’s a graphic that’s part of the Web site.  (Source: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/mission-statement-2947996; Accessed April 26, 2020).  So the messages seem confusing, right?  Well, think of it this way.  Small businesses are are for-profit entities.  They have a mission statement (who, what and why), a vision statement (where) and a value statement (how).

In your non-profit, your mission statement is the “who and what” of your organization, but as for a vision statement, it focuses on the future.  For both for-profit and non-profit entities, the vision statement answers the question “where.”  In a strategic plan, it’s the answer to the phrase, “Where are you going?”

Then, of course, is the question of “how” – “How will you get there.  It’s what value statements answer in the for-profit world, It’s what the process of advancement answers for the non-profit.  But what about the “why” for the non-profit?  That’s a case statement.  It tells why your organization is worthy of support, which, indeed, is why your organization exists.

For Catholic and Christian schools, think of your school’s mission.  Jesus Himself stated the mission: “Go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  (And that mission hasn’t changed!)  Did the disciples do that right away, as soon as Jesus ascended to the Father?  No – they stood around looking up into the sky.  It was only after they were filled with the Holy Spirit that they ran out into the world and proclaimed the Good News.  Indeed, they were “fired up!”  A compelling and engaging vision about your school is energizing, and will have parents “come and see” what’s remarkable about it.  Experiencing your school should make them realize that it is the place where they want their children to be.

Your Vision Statement says what happens when the mission is fulfilled.  If you are a principal and you are reading this, you are the one responsible for setting the vision for your school; if you are an advancement professional reading this, your job is to help make that vision a reality.  As the advancement professional, your school’s case statement tells why it’s important your school exists, why it’s important for others to become engaged in the organization, and why individuals and groups should support it financially.  You could actually have quite a few case statements if you have many projects that you’re working on, since different philanthropic organizations may have different criteria your school has to meet in order for a project to be successfully funded.

Here’s an example.  Ten years ago, my wife and I recently started a fund to help students involved in the local high school music program afford private music lessons and summer music camp experiences.  The Mission Statement: Enhance the musical experience of students, one lesson at a time.  The Vision Statement: Offer financial assistance for private music lessons or summer music camp experiences for students in grades 5 through 12 involved in the high school’s competitive band and orchestra programs.  The Case Statement: Studies have shown that students involved in a music program perform better in academic core subjects since brain function is improved due to improved utilization of both halves of the brain; therefore, proficiency in music leads to excellence in academics.  Participation in the band program improves discipline, teamwork, striving for excellence and builds performance skills.  If all members of a band program achieve to their personal potential and strive for precision performances, not only will their current experience be enhanced, but it will bring pride to the community.  As for the students, the benefits will extend into their collegiate and professional lives.  Benefitting from this venture will also make them realize their need to “play it forward” when they are able to do so.

Now after reading this, you may say, “That’s nice, but that’s not important to me.”  That’s OK.  I can tell you that there are individuals and organizations that have been not only excited but have been compelled to support the fund.  The point is that you need to find what touches parents to bring them into your school, what touches alumni and other constituents to make them want to contribute from their time, talent and treasure, as well as what touches foundations so that they will fund your projects.  The fact that our organization exists 10 years later is a testament to those that put the energy into the all-volunteer organization, and the people who want to become engaged with the organization’s mission.

That begs the question – when you do all the things you do, are you “Advancing the Mission?”  Personally, I believe that advancement is directional, and that you’re actually advancing toward the Vision, which makes a huge assumption – that there is a vision for your school.  Your Vision Statement could even be a narrative which paints the picture of what you’d like your school to be.  We saw Jesus’ Mission Statement, so what is his Vision Statement?  “That they may be one.” (Jn 17:22).  If you need a thousand or so words to convey your vision for your school, that’s OK too, since it may take a thousand words to describe the picture.  If your school doesn’t have a compelling Vision Statement, guess what you and your school’s leadership’s homework assignment is for this summer as you prepare for the next school year?

As for the mission itself, it needs to “grow,”  which is an exponential phenomenon.  “Advancing the mission” is a good start, but one advances “directionally.”  Growing also leads to the need to be aware of unintended consequences which may result, and the need to plan for them.  As growth continues, your school will eventually reach the point of “sustainability.”  That’s a very interesting place to be which creates a set of new different problems…such as, “Our classrooms are full and we have waiting lists for all our grades.”

Creating a compelling vision for your school to kindle a “fire in the belly” zeal in your school’s constituent groups is a priori to emotional engagement with your school.  Remember that the Acts of the Apostles tells what happens when “the twelve” were filled with the Holy Fire of the Spirit.  Because of that, “Many were added to their numbers.” (Acts 4:4).  If you lead a K to 8 school, and you have one teacher per grade level, a principal, a development director and an administrative assistant, that sounds like 12 people to me.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2020 (Original Publication Date: 20100426)