An organization on a mission is inspiring. Unflappable! Unstoppable! Yet defining a mission to pursue is not as easy as it seems, and its importance often is overlooked. An effective mission statement can help further many objectives for a family foundation, including helping to preserve and protect the vision of the founding philanthropist. Yet the importance of mission—the essential purpose of a foundation or of a charitable giving effort—has been largely ignored by foundation experts and philanthropy pundits over the last 10 years. The field generally has paid much greater attention to the concept of strategy, and has undervalued the importance of mission and the elements of a good mission statement.
This article argues that mission drives strategy and that therefore a family foundation needs to be sure its mission is clear before it engages in lengthy efforts to develop strategy. The article also addresses how a good mission statement can help preserve the legacy and vision of a founding philanthropist, and suggests some options for how family foundations can develop better mission statements.