Broad vs. Narrow Mission Statements for Nonprofit Organizations

A non-profit organization’s mission statement is that organization’s statement of its reason for being. It is important that those who are in leadership positions within the organization understand its mission, because deviating from the mission can expose the organization and its leaders to legal liability.

When creating (or updating) a mission statement, the directors must consider whether they are going to adopt a broad or narrow mission statement.  Some directors (and counsel for directors) recommend a very broad mission statement.  The rationale is that a broad mission statement presents a lower risk that someone acting on behalf of the organization will have his or her actions voided for being outside the purpose of the organization.  Also, if the board of directors uses a broad mission statement, then it is less likely that the board will have to amend the articles and/or bylaws at a later date so that the directors’ actions are in line with the organization’s mission.

Although there are good reasons to use broad mission statements, a narrow mission statement might make more sense for an organization.  The rationale for using a narrow mission statement is that using such a mission statement will help ensure that the organization knows what its purpose is.  Moreover, future boards may be less likely to stray from the organization’s original purpose if they know exactly what that purpose is.

Whether the directors choose a broad mission statement or a narrow one, they may need to consider updating IRS filings, amending their formation documents (e.g., articles of incorporation), and amending their operating documents (e.g., bylaws) if the organization’s mission is not in line with the organization’s current activities.

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