2 min Read
September 1, 2009

That’s our Mission! Vision? No, our Values! Wait, What?

Big Duck

Every so often, it seems that the same questions come up among a number of clients all at once. Recently, they’ve been around Vision, Mission, and Values Statements.

What’s the difference? How do we use them? Why do we need them?

Vision Statement

A Vision Statement articulates the ultimate change your organization wants to make in the world. It paints a picture of the future, often idealistic and motivating. What would the world look like if your organization (and all of the organizations working on the same issue) were to achieve its overarching impact on society?

Vision Statements are often bold and audacious. Go for it. Large, seemingly unrealistic claims are encouraged. That’s what makes them visionary. “We envision a world without poverty” could be a part of a Vision Statement.

A Vision Statement can be a helpful guide for decision-making. Although it might appear in some publications (in an “About your organization” section on your website and/or in a special donor piece), it is not generally used as prominently as your Mission Statement.

Mission Statement

If you think of your Vision Statement as describing the big picture of your work (the whole pie, as it were), the Mission Statement defines your slice of it, your organization’s actual purpose. It explains what your organization does and why it exists.

The Mission Statement usually appears frequently — on the website, in marketing collateral, on grants, etc.

Developing a Mission Statement is a particular challenge because you want to inspire your participants and donors while also offering a concise “nuts and bolts” explanation of what you do.


A Values Statement speaks to the philosophy that lies at the heart of your work. It articulates the key beliefs that guide your major programs as well as day-to-day decision-making.

Not every organization feels the need to create a Values Statement. It’s been our experience, however, that every organization that clearly defines its Values ultimate finds them beneficial. Values can motivate and inspire existing and potential staff and board members (“Yes, this is an organization I want to be a part of!”), and they can serve as a public declaration of what your organization stands for and wants evident in, and reflected by, its activities.

Some organizations publish their Values in all materials; others use them more selectively.

Developing Vision, Mission and Values Statements

Before a well-crafted statement (one you’d want to use verbatim and regularly) can be produced, leadership (chiefly, board and senior staff) should agree on the ideas that will drive them — often through a strategic planning process. Many organizations leap into word-smithing before they’ve agreed on the Vision, Mission, and Values themselves.