Narrow your nonprofit’s focus to avoid mission and message creep

Narrow your nonprofit’s focus to avoid mission and message creep

In a world where multitasking is king, it’s easy to want to do all the things, all the time.

But even with neverending to-do lists and the urge to be as productive as possible, there is virtue (and many benefits) in focusing on one thing at a time, and doing it well.

It can be enticing to want to broaden your nonprofit’s reach: To step outside of your mission a smidge to do just one more thing or help just one more person. It’s what turns an after-school program into an after-school program with a cooking class into an after-school program with a cooking class and an internship component.

And while innovation and growth are good, a lapse in focus is not.

Nonprofits need to keep their eye on the prize and zero in on their mission. This also means sticking to one story and one message to paint a clear picture of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Staying on message and on mission not only helps the organization succeed, but also better aligns supporters and staff to your work.

Set boundaries to focus your resources.

Being all things for all people can get expensive, and for nonprofits who have to watch every penny, this is problematic.

Resources need to be funneled appropriately to best achieve the goals of the organization and a streamlined mission. Mission creep and added services or initiatives often mean more money.

It’s noble to want to increase your capacity to aid your nonprofit’s community—whatever that may be—but those new goals might just take you away from why you started the organization in the first place.

Additional services can be beneficial to those you serve, but instead of trying to provide wraparound assistance and then some, consider partnering with other organizations and agencies to keep your work in your wheelhouse. You do what you do. They do what they do. Everybody wins.

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Stick to a clear mission and message to inspire donors.

When your mission and your message are clear, your stakeholders know what they are funding, plain and simple. Ardent supporters of your specific cause will find you and reinforce your work as advocates, partners, and contributors.

The NonProfit Times, in their recent One Story, Not Several, More Effective For Donors article, said that “empathy works when people are able to focus.” Give them one passion-point, not many, and see how they are able to rally behind your cause.

Not only does it help inspire them to support a cause they believe in, but it helps them better articulate that cause to others. When they can explain why they give, they can influence others to follow suit.

Beyond that, a solid, stable mission and message mean a solid, stable reputation. No donor wants to give a hefty amount (or any amount) to an organization, only to see it do a quick about-face. They gave to the nonprofit because of current demonstrated work and impact, not new objectives that have yet to be communicated.

Follow one direction to guide staff.

Ever tried to be the chief cook and bottle washer? You used to just make the breakfast, but now they’ve got you cleaning the plates. You’re left burnt out and tired, longing for the days when you only had to worry about the eggs.

Mission creep can mean taking on too much, which can mean a staff that it overworked (and usually underpaid). It can also lead to a confused staff who no longer fully understands the mission they once loved and proclaimed.

New goals lead to new objectives lead to a shift in operations and organizational structures. Your dedicated, well-positioned staff now has to adjust to new endeavors and new responsibilities.

A clear, steadfast mission, on the other hand, gives staff a purpose and a guiding light to direct their attention.


Bottom line? Drop the desire to be a one-stop-shop for all. You’re not Target. Streamline your story and your mission and focus on what’s most important for those you serve.

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Lindsey Thieken

Lindsey is a passionate community-builder and storyteller. When she's not writing, she's traveling, reading as much as possible, and practicing her left hook with her new obsession—boxing.

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