Back to the reference library we go, this time for a look at mission & vision statements. This is another area that we discovered needs to be addressed after last year's museum evaluations. A surprising number of museums are still using 1980s-styled mission statements - templates that had a few blanks to fill. Unfortunately, all those museums that still these mission statements "to collect, exhibit, interpret, research, and preserve" aren't actually saying much any more. People know what museums do. They understand we are collecting and exhibiting and preserving and all the rest. What they don't get from those old standard missions is the actual mission of that particular, unique museum. What makes it different from the museum "next door"? What is the museum really trying to accomplish in and for its community?
So without further ado let's take a peek at Emil Angelica's book, Crafting Effective Mission & Vision Statements. As soon as I opened this one I knew it was going to be good. Why? Because it kicks off with a cartoon of people in a boat, rowing in opposite directions. The person at the centre is wearing an ED (Executive Director) shirt and saying, "C'mon, put some muscle into it...we're not getting anywhere!" I love it when an author uses humour to address a serious subject. And yes, there are cartoons throughout the book. They will make you smile, nod in agreement, and maybe even remind you of a meeting or situation from your own museum.
The book is divided into 3 parts officially, but actually has 7 sections to it. The main parts are Understanding and Using Mission & Vision Statements, Developing the Mission Statement, and Developing the Vision Statements. In addition to these there is an introduction that explains why these statements are important, and at the end there is a sort of conclusion that explains the leadership benefits of crafting them and reviewing them regularly. The other two sections are appendices; one being the standard additional resources, and the other being worksheets that walk you through the statement development processes. These are fantastically helpful in tackling what can often feel like a daunting task.
The author has extensive experience in consulting with nonprofits, so launches the introduction by looking at three typical problems experienced by organizations that are lacking well-defined mission statements. I've added my peanut gallery thoughts after each of Angelica's points in an attempt to make them more concrete to museums.
1. Disjointed and competing programs (has anyone ever asked you why the museum is having a certain event? Have volunteers been at odds over which program/activity should get more resources or attention?)
2. Decreased funding (think of this as decreased support in general...fundraisers going poorly, being denied funding for summer students or special projects, difficulty finding new volunteers, etc.)
3. Poor decision-making (this isn't about any individual person, but if the board or staff tend to struggle with making changes or moving forward, or just making decisions in general, it shows the lack of direction in the museum's mission & vision statements)
While they may not use those exact words, I can think of museums that express frustration in one or more of these areas.
By comparison, states Angelica, organizations with clear and focused mission and vision statements are able to deliver unified services to their public, see an increase in funding (remember to read this as support too), feel confident in decision-making and often experience cool collaborations. Basically, people can tell when you're a healthy organization and will want to support that. But just like we try to avoid hanging out with someone who has a cold or the flu, the public doesn't want to hang out with an unhealthy museum.
Part 1 - understanding and using mission & vision statements - kicks off with a great reminder that mission statements should be short, snappy, and fit nicely on letterhead and/or business cards. They need to answer the question "what good, and for whom", and be so easy to remember that your volunteers, staff, and board can easily recite it to anyone and everyone they meet. Thinking back to all those "collection, preserve, interpret..." statements, Angelica says it best when he says that "a mission statement should separate your organization from the rest of the pack by distinguishing its work from the work of similar organizations." Once you have your mission statement, you should be using it in planning exercises, interactions with the public, marketing and fundraising efforts. Your name should become synonymous with the statement.
In thinking about the vision statement, this is big picture. It "sketches a picture of the organization's desired future in a few paragraphs. It answers two questions: What will be different in the world in three to five years because our organization exists? And, what role will our organization play in creating that difference?" Your vision statement is used differently; it should serve to keep everyone in the museum (volunteers, staff, board) focused on the same goals, can be used as a supporting document in funding applications to show how your project aligns with goals and serves your vision, and finally it serves to inform everyone in a broader way than your mission.
Part 2 reviews the steps in developing a mission statement; selecting a writing team, clarifying core values, reviewing the [museum's] underlying strategies, evaluating the current mission statement, drafting the new one (or tweaking the old), circulating it for review, and then finally adopting the new statement. Each step is reviewed in detail so you can easily understand the process, kinds of tasks to tackle and questions to ask. If you've never been part of an exercise like this before, those detailed steps will be really helpful to you.
Part 3 initially sounds like it is the same as part 2, but for the vision statement. However there are some key differences. Angelica acknowledges that not everyone has a vision statement, and sometimes people aren't sure if they should develop one or redevelop an old one. He uses a checklist of conditions to determine if it's time to create one:
- if the organization has significantly changed its mission statement
- if the organization has no agreed-on vision for the future
- if the current vision statement is at least two years old
- if staff and board changes indicate that it's time for the new leaders to create a vision statement of their own
- if so many external or internal factors have changed that the current statement is no longer valid
He also cautions that it's important to talk to your community and stakeholders before embarking on this exercise. This is a good time to think back on the organization's history, current reality, and capacity for growth. Focus groups, interviews, reading research reports, and other methods can be really helpful as you prepare for your visioning session. The steps to the development process will be similar to those in part 2; selecting a team, generating alternate visions, identifying common threads and themes from these, drafting a vision statement, circulating for review, modifying, and finally adopting the vision statement. Again each step is discussed in detail so the book really walks you through the entire process.
One of the most powerful points (at least to me) in this section was about drafting the statement. It reminds the reader of the need to keep the vision focused on the customer/client/visitor/whatever term is appropriate to your situation. Rather than talking about what your museum will do, shift the language to serving the community. For example, rather than saying you will expand kids' programming, say how many families will be supported by your "after-school at the museum days." Always remember that museums are community service organizations.
In the final summary section that outlines the benefits of crafting these statements, the author again reminds about the importance of the actual process, and how much can be learned from it. It provides you a chance to work together as an entire organization, to get valuable feedback from your community and stakeholders, and to really come together and get re-energized about your organization's work. Again this reminds me of all the conversations I've had with museums that are frustrated and feel like they're stalled; that every forward step is a battle in some way. That's when I think the worksheets in the appendices become invaluable. Instead of you having to come up with questions to ask, or a process to work through, you've got an expert (through the book) who can guide you through the process. It's not you saying the same thing over and over again. It's someone on the outside who is totally unbiased.
Honestly, I think a lot of museums need to borrow this book from us and work through its processes. Sometimes you've just got to go back to basics to give yourself that booster shot and refocus energies.