Vision and Mission: What you want and what you do

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I find it ironic that the communication field has such a hard time locking in firm definitions for words we use to help clients. Words like goals, objectives, strategies and tactics mean different things to different people.

One person’s strategy is another person’s tactic.

I came across this recently when helping a great Austin group refine its vision and mission. I wanted to show them some examples, and I found Craig Van Korlaar’s great site, which includes articles about good vision and mission statements for large, well-known organizations. Great examples. Check them out. (Another collection of non-profit mission statements is, but I’m not sure of the criteria used for the list.)

Yet it seems that even these groups can’t agree on a firm difference between vision and mission. As I know them:

a vision statement articulates how an organization would define a perfect world (or city or community), within the context of what they do, and

a mission statement articulates the organization’s reason for existing (it explains what the group does quite literally).

So a food bank in Smith County might say:

Our vision is a community where no one ever goes hungry.

Our mission is to provide food to needy families in Smith County.

One of my favorite organizations is the American Red Cross. In addition to being a great cause, the organization’s messaging and ads are so good.

But look at its vision.

The American Red Cross, through its strong network of volunteers, donors and partners, is always there in times of need. We aspire to turn compassion into action so that:

…all people affected by disaster across the country and around the world receive care, shelter and hope;

…our communities are ready and prepared for disasters;

…everyone in our country has access to safe, lifesaving blood and blood products;

…all members of our armed services and their families find support and comfort whenever needed; and

…in an emergency, there are always trained individuals nearby, ready to use their Red Cross skills to save lives.

First, it’s very well written and clearly thought out. But it’s also a very long and complicated vision. And I’d argue that the two sentences (before all the ellipses) are actually part of the mission.

Further, I’d argue that its vision is simpler: A world that is prepared for disaster before it strikes and provides professional and compassionate help when it does.

Its mission statement, however, is nearly perfect.

The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

The American Red Cross does a lot of things (see ellipses). But the sentence above wraps all of those activities, goals and programs up into a simple statement that explains its reason for being:  we prevent and alleviate human suffering.

Remember, your vision and mission should explain what you want and what you do. But they shouldn’t be complicated and they shouldn’t list EVERYTHING.

If you have examples of really good (or really bad) vision or mission statements, send them my way.

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