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Just For Nonprofits: The Mission Is The Mediator
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Just For Nonprofits: The Mission Is The Mediator - Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: The Mission Is The Mediator

Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: The Mission Is The Mediator

Whether your nonprofit organization is a charity, an educational institution, a religious organization, a club, or the overseer of some physical landmark, it's critical that it has a stated mission. CEOs of for-profit companies emphasize the necessity of powerful, specific mission statements, and these little sentences of imperative direction are even more important for nonprofits: it isn't merely profit that's at stake, but the greater purpose that got you involved with your organization in the first place. With this in mind, your mission statement isn't something you stick on coffee mugs for platinum-level donors. It is the driving force, the selective filter, and the mediating consideration for decision-making and conflict resolution.

Chances are, your mission statement was settled long before you arrived on the scene, but even if it's recent and if you had a hand in its formation, it should be taken as seriously as the law. This is not to suggest that your group is a slave to its mission statement; rather, it should respect the process and tradition from which it emerged. If it's time to rethink the mission statement (and sometimes it is), get your board, your clients, your employees, and other stakeholders together for a nice, long review of your purpose. Once you have it in place, demonstrate on a daily basis your investment in and dependence on the statement, citing it frequently as an example to those who work with you, for it should be the arbiter in times of uncertainty and disagreement.

Your mission statement is not a holy source of wisdom. It will not tell you how to apply its sensibilities to the hiring process, to budget cuts, or to new programs. That's why you're there: you decide how the big decisions best serve the mission; you interpret the mission in terms that address those big decisions; and you take responsibility for any disconnect between mission and method. Working this way--and communicating it every day to those you work with--is a personal safeguard against the subjective interferences inhibiting clear direction. Focusing on your mission limits political consideration, personal ambition, negative bias, and many of the rest of your millions of imperfections as a steward of the cause. No, you will never be truly free of the noise that obscures the signal, but if you can regularly apply the filter of the mission with utmost sincerity, you'll feel better about whatever the consequences may be.

Additionally, if you model such mission-minded decision-making for your board members and staff, the approach is adopted also by them, and here is where the real power of the mission comes into play. Because you are fully invested in the mission, and because your board is fully invested in the mission, and because the rank-and-file is invested in the mission, disagreement about major (and minor) decisions can be seen as a difference of professional opinion, and not something personal. The majority of your organization may disagree with a new policy, but if it believes your heart is lodged deeply in the mission, it will have an easier time of adjusting, giving you the benefit of the doubt good leaders need. Sure, there may need to be a workshop (or seven) on the concept of accepting "no" in service to the mission, but gradually, as your group learns to use it in all manner of evaluation, it becomes part of the culture. In turn, you will be able to communicate trust in everyone else's powers of decision because you'll have faith that they also see things through this lens.

Disagreement will always exist about how the mission is best served, and some members of your team may even use the mission statement as a weapon against what they consider a poor choice on your part. This is okay; you want this kind of healthy conflict. In the long run, you'll be wrong an astounding number of times, but those who are faithful to the cause will see where your heart is, and if you're a leader worthy of this cause, you'll be right far more often. Just keep in mind that it's not about right and wrong, but about succeeding or not succeeding in serving the mission, and even when the way is unclear, you'll know you have a clear understanding of what propels you into the unknown.


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Just For Nonprofits: The Mission Is The Mediator - Executive Leadership Articles

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