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04. The 3-Step Process for Creating a Magnetic One-Sentence Mission Statement


So often I’ll meet a passionate social entrepreneur who, when given the chance, just runs on and on about their ideas, their mission, and their dreams. 

You’ve likely  seen this type of person, or maybe you have even done this...I know I have!

Too often the excited nonprofit founder totally overwhelms - or bores - the listener, who just a few minutes ago was interested to hear a bit more about the new nonprofit. Soon, though, he or she is nervously scanning the room for the nearest exit, and shuffles away with a polite excuse.

It’s great to be excited about your new venture, so it’s tempting to rattle on and on to anyone who will listen – but this serves neither you, nor the listener.

There’s nothing more powerful than equipping yourself, your founding Board, and your staff and fans with a remarkable “elevator pitch” styled one-sentence nonprofit mission statement.

Your one-sentence mission statement should act like a magnet – irresistible to anyone who might be interested in promoting or supporting your organization (or knows someone who can).

The benefits of a very short version of your compelling nonprofit mission statement are many, including: 

  • It is required to get 501(c)3 status, as the IRS looks for mission statements that match their requirements.
  • It is crucial in our busy age, to attract quality supporters and staff without wasting time or attention span
  • It is your single most powerful public relations marketing and branding tool

Admittedly, the rule generally is, the shorter it is, the harder it is to write. 

My favorite Mark Twain quote goes something like this: “I sat down to write a short letter, but I didn’t have time - so I wrote a long one instead.”

Writing a one-sentence mission statement can be tough, but the results can provide a powerful foundation from which your nonprofit organization operates.

Never cut corners when it comes to your one-sentence nonprofit mission statement. It’s well worth the time and energy you spend on it.

Even if your organization has a mission so important that is seems the world may stop spinning without it, you probably won’t get very far with the IRS if you can’t communicate your intentions to their satisfaction.

When it’s time to tackle your 1023 application, the IRS requires a clear understanding of the elements at play.

They want to quickly see the social problem you want to solve and the tangible solutions you will offer...in 250 characters or less, hence our “One Sentence Mission Statement” training.

Maybe you dread dealing with the IRS as much as most people do. It’s exactly the kind of unproductive, draining process that makes you daydream longingly about your last root canal.

But the IRS Exempt Organizations department is staffed with human beings, most of whom just want to do their job.

Instead of complaining about government bureaucracy, we should ask:

“What do folks inside the IRS want to see to be able to stamp my file ‘APPROVED’?”

Think about it in these terms:

Imagine you are a bank loan officer and someone comes into your office looking for a $50,000 business note.

He or she may look the part, and may convey genuine passion about what the organization will do.

But, when you ask about the goals of his operation, things get foggy and his answer leaves you confused - will you open the vault and hand over stacks of cash, based only on the idea that he cares?

Not likely.

Applying for nonprofit status without being able to explain your mission - in as few words as possible -works along those same lines.

If you can’t clearly articulate your nonprofit mission statement, it can be a 501(c)3 application killer.

But if you “nail it” the benefits run far and wide!

It also serves as your “elevator pitch” - a term made popular by such shows as “Shark Tank” because entrepreneurs may need to get their idea across to someone important, whom they just met on an elevator!

Put it this way: Every person you meet is a potential investor, donor, or volunteer. The more productive, or connected, or wealthy the person is, the less time they have to spend with anyone who is “beating around the bush.”

People who fit the profile of “successful” also tend to have IMMENSE respect for those who prepare ahead, respect their time, and are “ready for anything.”

Therefore, your “One-Sentence Mission Statement” IS your elevator pitch - it says a LOT about you as a person, and also conveys the essence of the “WHY”, the “WHAT”, and the “HOW” of your organization in just a few seconds.

That’s why having your one-sentence mission statement at the ready, right here at the tip of your tongue , will help you to automatically attract the right people to your cause, and conversely you’ll be able to tell right away if these are your people.

This segment will help you generate ideas that will form your mission statement and boil them down into one sentence. Please download your One Sentence Mission Statement worksheet here. 

You don’t have to be a professional writer to do this.

Just set aside some time and ask yourself the following questions about your organization:

  •   What problems will my nonprofit attempt to solve?
  •  What specific solutions will my nonprofit offer?
  •  What tangible results can be expected if these are implemented?

They’re penetrating questions, for sure.

But that’s the idea.

Take the elements of those questions and ask yourself how they can be expressed in one sentence.  

How to Write Your One-Sentence Nonprofit Mission Statement 

We’re going to take your brilliant ideas from the previous questions and apply them to a simple formula that spins the dynamic, so that anyone who is remotely interested in what you’re doing can’t help but say, “Wow, that’s pretty amazing! How do you do that?”

You’ve then earned interest, trust, and the right to tell them a little more.

When given the opportunity to tell a person or group about your organization for the first time, use the following one -sentence nonprofit mission statement formula:

“We help ___________________ (the community you serve) by providing __________________(your nonprofit’s general activity or service) so they experience __________________(the result you aim to achieve).”

Want to go big and cast the vision about why this is important?

Just add...

“so that ___________________ (describe how the world will look different)”.

It’s a must to start honing this key arrow in your quiver – because it is crucial to get enough information across so that the person you are talking to can make that all-important subconscious decision…

Is this an organization I might want to get involved with?

Instead of the person trying to figure out how to politely extract themselves from the conversation, this will prompt those who are aligned with you to be the ones asking for more information.

Your next step is to have everyone involved with your organization commit your One-Sentence Mission Statement to memory, so when they go out in life and engage in conversation, they’re like your Brand Ambassadors, helping to share your great work.

Write it on the back of a business card or better yet, write it on several post-its and put one on your bathroom mirror where you get ready in the morning, stick one in the car, or make it the home screen on your iPhone.

You get the idea.

This will help you keep from stumbling on and on when the opportunity arises to tell someone about your organization.

Also, they’ll give you body language cues as to whether they are interested to hear your entire elevator pitch - don’t force it!

And if they simply don’t have time, but are interested, you’ll walk away with a business card – and a confident first impression.

Ultimately, how to start a 501(c)3 nonprofit is more a question of how to engage the people who have the time, talent, and treasure you need to make your vision a reality.

So, let's get started! You can download your How to Write a Magnetic One Sentence Mission Statement here. 

Also, if you're ready to start your nonprofit and you'd like everything done for you so you don't have to worry about any paperwork and details, then check out our done-for-you 501(c)3 nonprofit service.  

Or, if you you're ready to get started, but you have a few questions, the please book a free strategy session here. 

-Christian LeFer, How to Write a Magnetic One Sentence Mission Statement, InstantNonprofit

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