Defining purpose, vision, and mission

Purpose, vision, and mission. Some of us already have these defined in our businesses or organizations from years past, but we don’t know what they mean, we don’t understand their significance, and the different role of each one is obscured. Others of us don’t know where to start with all of these various statements that we are encouraged to define while building our own organization.

Written BY

Sarah Obenauer

Sarah is the Co-founder of Purpose Craft. She runs Make a Mark, 12-hour design and development marathons benefitting local humanitarian causes. She also publishes Limitless, built to create a community of women surviving and thriving with Rheumatoid Arthritis. She has been working with nonprofits and purpose-driven organizations and businesses for nearly a decade.

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June 25, 2020

Purpose, vision, and mission. Some of us already have these defined in our businesses or organizations from years past, but we don’t know what they mean, we don’t understand their significance, and the different role of each one is obscured. Others of us don’t know where to start with all of these various statements that we are encouraged to define while building our own organization.

So what is the difference?

The terms purpose and mission are often used interchangeably, but I like to separate them for internal clarity. Your purpose is your why. Your mission is your what and how. Your purpose shouldn’t change, while your mission may vary over the years as those you serve and how you serve them changes. Your vision is a long-term, aspirational goal for your organization. Let’s dig in.

Purpose

Your purpose is your reason for existence — it describes the why behind your organization or business. Figuring out your purpose is critical to your personal success and fulfillment, as well as the growth and strength of the organization. This doesn’t need to be a statement that you craft, but can be a philosophy that you use to build out your mission and vision statements.

What dos this mean? If something doesn’t align with your purpose, you don’t pursue it. This doesn’t mean you don’t drive after opportunities that will increase your reach or help with funding and revenue, because of course you should — but do this with partners and strategies that you believe in.

In action:

+ Why does your organization or business exist?

+ Why do you do what you do?

+ Can you express your purpose in the next 30 seconds? If not, it may not be top of mind, and therefore may not be driving your behavior. Spend some time thinking about how your purpose connects with your daily words and actions.

Vision

Your vision should be a long-term goal that inspires and challenges. An example of this might be eradicating homelessness in your city or creating a business that continues to provide jobs for generations to come.

Your vision could also be called your BHAG or big, hairy, audacious goal. This is bold and difficult, but not impossible. When determining your vision, this isn’t a time to hold back.

The most famous BHAG of them all was President John F. Kennedy announcing the goal of landing a man on the moon before 1970. This has coined the term ‘moonshot,’ which we use to define an ambitious, challenging, and innovative project.

Example vision statements:

+ For YOVASO, a traffic safety nonprofit: To reach zero teen fatalities on Virginia roadways.

+ Habitat for Humanity: A world where everyone has a decent place to live.

+ Creative Commons: Realizing the full potential of the internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.

In action:

+ What do you want your business or organization to have achieved in the next 10 years? 20 years? 50 years? Come up with a bold goal.

+ Why do you want that to be your goal?

+ Do you have an existing BHAG or moonshot? Does this fit with your purpose and mission?

Mission

Your mission describes what it is you do and for whom. A trap that many organizations fall into is creating long, vague mission statements with too much fluff or technical jargon.

Example mission statements:

+ Heifer International: Work with communities to end world hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth.

+ charity: water: Bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.

+ Warby Parker: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.

In action:

+ What is your product, service, or offering?

+ Who do you serve with this product, service, or offering?

+ What makes what you do or how you do it unique?

+ Does your current mission statement reflect both your purpose and your mission as you see it today?

Internal Brand

Having a strong internal brand increases excitement and commitment amongst employees, leads to more genuine interactions and decisions, and makes it easy to send a clear message to the audience.

Further Reading
Defining brand character
Determining your brand character and putting into action is incredibly exciting and invigorating for everyone invested in your organization.
August 5, 2020
10 tips on scaling your side gig while maintaining quality
In 2017, after over two years of spending nights, weekends, and even lunch breaks on my side gig, I finally went full time.
July 29, 2020