Nonprofits have two missions to balance–cause and corporate

twinsBefore I start talking about strategic communications planning in coming weeks, I want to point out a fact that most nonprofits vaguely sense but few clearly articulate.

You have two missions—a cause mission to change society and a corporate mission to sustain your organization. It’s important to keep clear about these two missions, the tension between them, and the communications resources required for both.

Too often, the bulk of nonprofit communications resources are channeled into supporting  corporate mission—raising money. That’s understandable, especially in times of funding scarcity, but it’s also a little short-sighted.

Your cause mission is the raison d’etre for your organization. How well you accomplish it is probably the single most important factor in your long-term fund raising success. If you can’t continuously report impact and progress related to your cause, donors will soon find a nonprofit that can.

Nonprofit communications is not just about marketing your organization to funders, donors, and volunteers. Communications can also powerfully advance your cause mission by helping you shift public opinion, coalesce networks, and build social movements. You’re going to need to think more deeply and creatively about how to do that as you start planning. (For starters, read some of the recent posts on Beth Kanter’s blog about using social media to build social movements.)

You may believe that your cause mission depends on the success of your corporate mission (“we can’t do any programs if we don’t have money”); I believe it’s the other way around (“we won’t raise money if we can’t show program impact”). Realistically, it’s a little of both. Consider that when you’re allocating communications resources next year.

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5 Responses to “Nonprofits have two missions to balance–cause and corporate”

  1. Sherri Goldsmith Says:

    This is a good article. It reminds us of the most important steps we must take to advance our work.
    Thank-you.
    Sherri Goldsmith
    ” It takes a village to get a job in 2009″.

  2. Bruce Jordan Says:

    Extremely well presented.

    What do you think about mission statements that specifically refer to the corporate mission, along the lines of “…and to raise the funds needed for this mission to thrive?”

    • Jane Garthson Says:

      IMHO, that resources are needed to achieve a mission is a given; stating it would just clutter up mission statements. Remember that they need to be short enough for everyone involved to remember and use for daily decision-making and communication.

    • IMPACTMAX Says:

      Thanks for the question Bruce. I agree with what Jane and Linda say below. As a nonprofit administrator you need to be clear about the two missions, but external audiences are only interested in how you’re solving the social problem you’re addressing and how successful you are at it.

  3. Linda Dahl Says:

    I have to agree with Jane – that you need funds to accomplish your mission is a given. People support your cause because of the work that you do; if your mission statement is succinct and clearly highlights your what youdo, it can be used in all of your fund-raising efforts.


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