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Board Member Responsibility #1: Mission & Purpose

April 01, 2021

In part 1 of our Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards series, we take a closer look at why it is crucial for a board to determine the organization's mission and purpose.

*Editor's Note: This blog has been updated as of April 1, 2021 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Board members are ultimately responsible for the sustainability, financial viability, and program success of the non-profit organization. In part one of our series, we will discuss why it is essential for the Board to determine its mission and purpose.

Why it's essential to establish a mission

The Board's responsibility is to create and ensure that the mission is valid, honest, and current. A mission statement should tell the public why the organization exists, who it serves and what needs it is meeting. People invest their time, talent and treasure in an organization because they are passionate about the cause and needs of the individuals being served. The Board members should be able to repeat the mission to support the organization outside the board room in the community.

Mission and purpose help guide organizational planning

A good mission statement serves as a guide for organizational, strategic, and operational planning. The mission should also drive the fundraising and development strategies that help sustain public confidence and support. The Board and staff decisions about goals, programs, services, and priorities should all support the mission and purpose. When faced with staffing, volunteer initiatives, and priorities, and dealing with scarce resources, the mission and purpose will help filter out what choices are best for the organization. Some organizations begin each Board meeting with a reading of the organization's mission and vision statement to set the tone and remind all why they are there.

Mission vs. Vision

There are many organizations with memorable missions like Dana-Farber Cancer Institute "Defeating Cancer is our sole mission." Their mission is powerful, and you can easily understand its purpose. A mission statement tells the public why the organization exists and the need it is meeting.

Vision is what the community will look like when the mission is achieved. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's vision statement is "Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's ultimate goal is the eradication of cancer, AIDS, and related diseases and the fear that they engender." A vision statement is not a requirement, but it is another tool the organization can use to communicate to donors and funders about their ultimate goal.

Every decision that the Board makes should advance the organization's mission and purpose. Board members are ambassadors of the organization and should be able to effortlessly repeat the mission inside and outside the board room. If you are serving on a non-profit Board, consider asking the last time the mission was updated.

Read more on non-profit boards:

Board Development Blog Series: 10 Basic Responsibilities of Not-for-Profit Boards

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