The following is excerpted from Protecting Donor Intent by Jeffrey J. Cain.
When defining your mission, what may seem obvious to you may not be obvious to others. Don’t take shortcuts in writing your mission statement. Ambiguous terms need to be carefully defined. Explain how you see the connections between your principles. Always try to put yourself in the position of a reader who has never met you. Would this person understand what you were hoping to accomplish? Would he or she have a clear picture of what motivated you? Would he or she have a good sense of the kinds of things you would want to support?
Take, for example, the late Dan Searle, former CEO of Searle Pharmaceuticals and benefactor of the Searle Freedom Trust. For six months, Searle worked closely to refine his mission statement with a trusted advisor, Kimberly O. Dennis. “I would sometimes write him notes asking him to clarify certain things,” recalls Dennis. “In his notes he often referred to the importance of individual responsibility as a corollary of individual freedom. If you were going to have a free society, he would say, you needed to have personal responsibility. I wanted him to clarify what role he thought government should have in enforcing the kinds of moral values that he considered integral to personal responsibility. As it turned out, Dan thought government had no place telling people how to live their lives. But I don’t think this would have come through if I hadn’t asked him to clarify his thinking, because it was obvious to him but it wasn’t obvious to me.”
“Dan went through the mission statement, paragraphs were added, paragraphs were deleted, sentences were massaged,” adds Dennis. “There is not a word in that document that Dan didn’t have there very intentionally. We had long discussions over whether we should use the word freedom or liberty, over whether America is a democracy or a democratic republic. Every single word is intentional.”
Writing an Effective and Enduring Mission Statement
At the 2010 Annual Meeting, Linda Childears of the Daniels Fund and Kim Dennis of the Searle Freedom Trust shared from their first-hand experience working with mission statements. As mentioned in the passage above, Ms. Dennis worked directly with Dan Searle as he methodically drafted and refined the terms of his philanthropic legacy. Ms. Childears, meanwhile, worked closely with the board of the Daniels Fund to understand, define, and institutionalize the intentions expressed in founder Bill Daniels’ mission statements. In this session, Ms. Childears and Ms. Dennis discussed what they have learned—what their founders did well, and what they could have done better—about writing an effective and enduring mission statement. Listen to the audio from the informative session through the audio player link below.