Creeped out: Avoiding mission creep

When funding is competitive, it’s often all too-easy to lose sight of the goals. In the case of some nonprofits, this means developing new programming or services based on what grants are available instead of programming or services that truly tie into an existing mission.
In other words, mission creep.Sometimes, nonprofits do need to change the mission based on changing audiences, the accomplishment of goals or a new need in the community. It’s when a mission is more arbitrarily altered over time with no real focus or reasoning tied to it that an organization suffers. While going after funding in this way may solve an issue short-term, it’s likely to cause other issues in the long run when funders and donors can pinpoint the lack of focus an organization with mission creep appears to have.

The key to staying true to a mission and securing funding lies within a strong mission to begin with. Here are a few tips for creating a creep-proof mission:

  • Keep the stakeholders in mind
    Nonprofits usually have multiple stakeholders, often with conflicting interests and ideas. Creep-proof missions reflect the interests of each stakeholder, but with balance. It’s this balance that inspires stakeholders and countermands mission creep. If your nonprofit has not done so recently, take time to conduct research to reveal your stakeholders’ opinions and input as a way to maintain that balance. Consider developing a survey focused on the community’s need you are serving to gauge stakeholder feedback. Add an incentive for participating, like a mug or a fleece blanket, for maximum return.
  • Involve the board and the organization
    When developing a mission statement, most nonprofits leave it up to the board. While this is effective, staff members who work directly with constituents should also be brought to the table. These are the people who best understand the needs of the community and the struggles of the organization. Hold a mission and visioning retreat with your board, leadership staff and organizational stakeholders. Discuss the needs of the community based on the research you conducted, the obstacles of your organization and the opportunities to succeed. Provide each participant with plenty of pens, paper and treats to nosh on to sustain their energy.
  • Anticipate change
    Mission statements that anticipate change are timeless. In order to accommodate change, however, nonprofits should re-explain their mission to their stakeholders every three to five years and continue to gauge the interests of stakeholders as well.
  • Guide trade-offs
    All nonprofit organizations reach a crossroads from time to time and are forced to decide which initiatives or programs need to be built up or abandoned. These are precisely the situations where mission creep occurs most often. A creep-proof mission should inspire your team to let go of opportunities that don’t support the goals or objectives set forth by the mission.
  • Make it stick
    Mission statements that are ambiguous, long or full of jargon are the most susceptible to mission creep. Remove the gray area and keep everyone focused by creating a statement that is short, easy to understand and easily remembered. Want a great test? If you can fit most of your mission statement on a pencil or the top line of a sticky note, you’re on the right track.

Don’t get creeped out. Focus on the mission and stay true to your stakeholders—it’s the only way to fund your organization in a sustainable way.

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