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Why was your nonprofit formed? Is this still the focus of the work of the organization? For many, the work of the organization “morphs” a bit once the organization becomes operable.

Mission drift occurs when the organization begins to “drift” away from the purpose or mission of the organization. The mission statement is the statement of purpose for the organization and sets your organization apart. 

Does it matter if the nonprofit “drifts” away from its mission statement? The organizational mission statement exists to guide the work of the organization. The mission statement helps everyone associated with the organization—staff, board members, volunteers, donors, and clients to understand its purpose, why the organization exists. 

When the nonprofit drifts from its mission, for whatever reason, a disconnect can occur.  Staff may feel conflicted about their roles and how to provide services.  Donors may decide that they can no longer support the work of the organization.  And everyone becomes confused about why the organization exists and what its focus is.

Unfortunately, many organizations experience some degree of mission drift throughout their lifecycle. Since mission drift is so harmful to the organization, why is this so? First, far too many organizations take one small step away from their mission just “this one time,” to “meet this one need.” However, once we take one step, it becomes easier and easier to take another and another.  It is best not to step off this slippery slope.

Other organizations become enticed by the lure of additional financial resources if the mission is just “tweaked” a bit. Know that if you stretch the mission to make the work of the organization fit into the funding guidelines of a foundation, the funder is likely to see it. When this happens, you are going to lose any trust you have established with the funder.

Clearly, unconscious mission drift is not positive for nonprofits.  But, what if the organization needs to change?  We recommend that all nonprofits take the time on an annual basis to review their mission statement to look at how the organization is functioning and to determine if the mission is still relevant.  During this review process, the organization will want to look at current trends in their area of service, what they are doing well and what challenges they face.  From there, the organization may want to make changes to their mission statement.  It should be noted that I am not suggesting that the organization completely change its area of focus…for instance, a food pantry is probably not going to change their purpose to serving stray animals.  But, there are times when a nonprofit may want to modify or tweak their mission to more accurately reflect the work of the organization. 

When reviewing the mission statement it is important to recognize that methods may change frequently while the mission usually does not. Methods are the strategies used to fulfill the mission. For instance, you may offer an after-school program, a parenting class and tutoring as you seek to serve at-risk youth in your community. But, suppose the school system receives a large grant and is now able to offer an after-school program for every child in the school. Your organization may need to adjust your programming and how you serve, BUT that does not mean your mission changes.

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