Sense of Purpose

Mission statements give organizations a sense of purpose.  A nonprofit’s mission statement defines a societal problem and promises a solution.  The promise is meaningful since the solution solves one of society’s problems.  Naturally, every solution is measurable and durable.

Being part of a nonprofit should be very rewarding and purposeful.  When the purpose of your work (paid or volunteer) is to provide society with a meaningful, measureable, and durable solution to an important problem, it should be engaging work and give your life purpose.

Nonprofit workers fall into two groups.  The highly engaged find purpose in their work.  The marginally engaged or unengaged just have a job.

The marginally engaged or unengaged have limited or no personal connections to the mission.  They feel the mission is at best a marketing slogan and lacks relevance.

Here are a few ways to increase staff engagement:

Hiring – While a person might be capable of doing a great job, having engaged employees who find purpose in their work implies finding people who love what they are doing and believe it is important.

Focus – Make the mission the center of everything that happens and every decision.  Instead of keeping it behind the scenes, make it obvious.  When the local bus schedule changes, it is easy for people to assume any change in a nonprofit’s operating hours is an attempt to protect the revenue stream.  However, the nonprofit should ensure everyone realizes the change in operating hours is to accommodate the needs of clients.  The same is true of reports.  Leadership needs to voice its intentions so that the staff has the right focus.

Data – The data available sometimes make it hard to know if a nonprofit’s promises are being kept.  Sometimes the data focuses on the efficiency of the operations.  This ensures management has the data it needs to monitor the health of the nonprofit but it also focuses attention on something other than the mission.  While efficiency is necessary, it is also necessary to have data that confirms the effectiveness of the process.  Measuring effectiveness demonstrates the promises of the mission statement are being kept.  The effectiveness measures tell everyone that the purpose of the nonprofit is being fulfilled and therefore the staff understands the purpose and importance of their work.

Next Step:

Ensure your mission statement promises something that serves a purpose that is important to your staff, supporters, clients, and community

Measure the solution your nonprofit promises to provide in ways that resonate with your audiences (staff, supporters, clients, and community)

Ensure each of your staff members and volunteers are highly engaged

Focus on the long term and trust that immediate needs will be met

The health of your nonprofit is important to everyone.  Therefore, it is easy to understand how health-related issues can become the center of conversations, reporting, and decision making.  While clients served and finances are important health indicators, they depend on how well your promises are kept.

When a competitor makes an attention-grabbing announcement, it is tempting to try to match what the competition is doing.  It is important to remember that competitors are a distraction.  What matters is your mission and keeping the promises it makes to your clients, donors, and community.

In other words, in the swirl of normal life it is hard to remember that a nonprofit’s source of sustainability is the fulfillment of its promises to society.  When you keep your promises, your community will provide the support you need.  Receiving the support you need is the most valuable form of attention.  It is the attention that provides the most important things (donors, volunteers, referrals, and advocates) your nonprofit needs for good health.

Do all that you can to ensure everything that happens has a mission-centric purpose.

Take It Further:

Remind your board to focus on your nonprofit’s sustainability, mission, and clients rather than operational or financial data

Ask your board chair and board development committee to monitor the purpose and engagement of board members as closely as you monitor the staff

The same process can be used to ensure that donors are highly engaged

More about finding the right employees here.


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