Almost every organization today operates with a statement of mission. Does that mean mission serves the same purpose in every organization? Is the purpose of mission the same if an organization operates as a nonprofit versus a for-profit entity? What should a mission statement look like? Are there definitive guidelines for how to write a statement of mission? How long should a statement of mission be? Should the mission statement be memorized by a community? How often should a mission statement be updated?
These are the types of questions posed by Catholic schools. In a room full of individuals gathered to assist with the process of clarifying the mission statement of a Catholic school, you are likely to find as many answers and opinions as there are questions. A shared understanding of how mission applies uniquely to Catholic schools is needed to bring focus and purpose to this kind of important work.
Interestingly enough, the most common area of debate with regard to the writing of a mission statement has to do with its length. As you read this, take a mental inventory. You likely have an assumption as to how long a “good” mission statement should be. From where did that assumption arise?
More importantly, does that assumption apply to any organization, business or entity? Perhaps you think of Nike. Three words come to mind – “Just Do It.” Perhaps you think of a business of international stature. The mission statement of the Walt Disney Company is 53 words long. Perhaps you think of a company known for recent marketplace success. Warby Parker, newcomer to the designer eyewear scene, doesn’t even operate with a conventional mission statement, but has both short and long versions, prefaced with, “Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.”
When it comes to the crafting of a mission statement for Catholic schools, perhaps you think a comparison to an organization of noble purpose is important. The March of Dimes mission statement, while it has evolved markedly since its inception and focus on the eradication of polio, currently is stated as, “The mission of the March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.”
All of these examples serve to illustrate that length is not a defining quality of a statement of mission. When it comes to the crafting of a mission statement for any Catholic school, the last question to ask is, “How long should the mission statement be?” Rather, a shift of understanding needs to take place which recognizes that mission is at the heart of any Catholic school and is based on answering the questions: Who are you and who do you serve?
Most importantly in today’s competitive and challenging marketplace for Catholic schools and Catholic education, a mission statement needs to clearly position and differentiate a Catholic school in its marketplace. Instead of asking questions about a formula for mission statements, those charged with the drafting and crafting of mission statements should consider the questions that a mission statement needs to answer:
- Why should I send my child to this school?
- Why should I teach at this school?
- Why should I invest in and support the perpetuation of the mission of this school?
Catholic schools engage in a mission statement development or clarification process to gather community voices to ensure a school’s current statement of mission effectively answers the above questions, as well as serving as a guide for day-to-day decision-making and anchor point for long-range strategic planning. A clear and compelling mission statement is critical to the success of a Catholic school, yet most importantly, ensuring that a school’s unique mission is not only well-understood, but embraced by a school community is essential.
When a school lives its mission, day in and day out, that lived mission is answered in each and every individual response to the question, “What is the mission of this school?” When the elements of mission are spoken with a consistent voice throughout a school community, then the power of mission is ready to be harnessed. Current students take pride in their school, set a positive example in their communities, and serve as the best ambassadors to promote their Catholic school. Current parents provide testimonials in answer to why other parents should choose their Catholic school to partner with in the education of their children. Faculty and staff exemplify a group of individuals united in achievement of a powerful and noble purpose. Donors receive the gift of satisfaction in knowing that their support contributes to the perpetuation of a mission which resonates with their values and desire to make a difference for good. Clarity of mission is essential to the success of today’s Catholic schools.
A clear and well-articulated statement of mission is the foundation from which a school determines:
- An organizational structure and roles designed to support achievement of the mission;
- The policies and procedures needed to ensure the effective functioning of an organization in achievement of its mission.
- The health of relationships that result when all in a school community are united in the common purpose of achievement of mission.
- The starting point on the bridge that will take a school through a strategic plan to achieve its vision.
Maria Ribera is Senior Executive Consultant of Catholic School Management (CSM).