The Mission Statement - Your Most Valuable Resource

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Today's guest blogger, Jennifer Sweeney, is one of the most active and dedicated volunteers I've ever met.  She is a tireless community builder and a value to any organization with which she works. I asked Jennifer to talk about her experience attending our recent Leadership Series Workshop with author and management guru Peter Brinckerhoff. Jennifer shares the key points from Brinckerhoff's materials here. Certainly many great lessons were learned. And a reminder that we all need to start from mission - always - is a good one.

The Mission Statement - Your Most Valuable Resource
By Jennifer Sweeney
Owner, Ariadne Consulting: Helping organizations gain clarity on their next steps.
President, Canadian Women Voters Congress
Treasurer, Vancouver Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers

On October 27, I had the opportunity to attend Peter Brinckerhoff's "Mission-Based Management" event offered by Vantage Point. Brinckerhoff is blunt and direct - it's a style I like. Mission, mission, mission - if you don't have a clear mission, there is a problem. If you are involved in activities that are not directly related to your mission, there is a problem.

I attended the workshop searching for assistance with the management of small working boards. I regularly work with boards that are stuck on interpersonal dynamics and drama, and distracted from their reason for meeting and the purpose of the organization. Brinckerhoff reminded me that by taking the time to work through a mission statement with full buy-in, change is possible.

Here are some of the key learnings I took from the day:

Your mission statement is your most valuable resource.
Your mission statement is a management tool, a staff motivator, a volunteer recruiter and a fund raiser. Brinckerhoff focuses on two simple rules:

  1. Rule #1: Mission, mission, mission
    • more mission
    • better mission
    • capacity to do more mission
  2. Rule #2: No money, no mission.
    • He asked us to write down the words: Cash = O2. Without money to do your work, you can't operate. Our organizations are mission-based businesses. People do not simply "give us" money. When they make a donation to our organization, they are making a decision to purchase services for people they'll never meet.

Easy problems get solved - tough problems get left to charities.
Brinckerhoff asked how many of us had short-term missions. Nobody raised their hands. He then asked why we plan short-term? Why do we think we can live hand to mouth? Having no money is not good for the long-term survival of our organizations. In order to deliver our missions, we need to be as profitable as we can be.

In addition, Brinckerhoff questioned the expectation that we run lean operations with low administrative costs. He pointed out well respected businesses that have reputations for lean operations, such as FedEx and Southwest Airlines, have admin costs in the 30% range! This was a meaningful point in my world. At the organization I serve, our mission-based educational activities require a great deal of administrative support. The challenge remains in educating supporters about the connection between admin support and direct service. Brinckerhoff calls expenses "investments in the mission", and does not view administrative costs as a useful metric.

Focus on your core competence.
A focus on core competence allows an organization to stay focused on the mission rather than other activities. Brinckerhoff introduced the concept of ‘high or low mission outcome' and ‘high or low financial outcome.' If an event, program or activity at your organization has a high mission outcome, a low financial outcome may be acceptable. On the other hand, a low mission outcome means it is important to make money.

Set a sensible price for your services. If people value what you do, they'll pay you for it. Before assuming nobody wants to pay for X, Brinckerhoff recommends that we ask. And of course - for every financial decision we make, we must ask, "How much mission does it do?"

Financial statements always need to be read in context.
Brinckerhoff advocates that organizations be financially-empowered. In keeping with Rule #2; money in the bank gives you time to think and make better decisions. He recommended that organizations look at financial statements in context, and discussed related strategies such as trend data and comparative statements. He also suggested regularly gathering and considering non-financial indicators.

Controls set us free.
Policies for personnel, media, volunteers, disasters, succession, etc. are all recommended. Making governing documents available and accessible allows everyone connected with the organization to refer to them. These controls are intended to prevent problems and allow more freedom to manage rather than administer. The final piece of the day was a guideline for a process to develop controls.

In addition to the nuggets of wisdom, Brinckerhoff recommended several resources. By the end of the day, I had a lot of information upon which to reflect. I am looking forward to the new edition of Brinckerhoff's book, "Mission-Based Management: Leading your Not-for-Profit in the 21st Century", which is coming out soon.

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