A clear mission statement is the foundation of a well-operated museum or historic site. At its core, the document should provide board members, employees, and guests with answers to these central questions:
- Why: Why does your nonprofit exist? What are the goals of your institution? What call to action or public need are you responding to?
- Who: Who does your institution serve?
- How: How will your institution achieve these goals? How is your institution serving the community? What do you want the public to get out of interactions with your institution?
Each of these questions serves as a guideline that ensures specificity and purpose. If periodically reviewed, at least every 5-7 years, the mission statement can help you determine the degree to which future programs, initiatives, and other actions align with the purpose of the museum. It is ultimately the duty of the board and institutional director to write and update the mission statement as needed. Including staff and volunteer input in the process can help get the whole organization on the same page. It is also important to solicit feedback and insight from the communities the institution aims to serve, so that the mission statement best reflects the communities’ needs.
Institutions can also have a vision statement that defines the impact your institution will have when it achieves its mission. A vision statement can be useful because it can inform long-term thinking, provide a clear vision of the future, and focus the board on specific goals. Vision statements can be measurable and include a specific goal or audience. And it also should be drafted in the same inclusive way as the mission statement. Mission and vision statements should be brief while still effectively communicating your museum’s purpose, goal, and intended value. They should be realistic, informative, specific, and accessible to the public. While they share similarities, the mission and vision statements have differences. The vision statement is more focused on the future and keeping the organization on the right track while the mission statement is more focused on accessing the success of and providing direction to the institution in its day-to-day operations and near future.
Whether you are writing a new mission statement or revising your current one, the following resources will help you and your organization develop a mission statement that expresses your intent in a usable and meaningful way.
Sources for writing your mission statement:
- Board source posted a brief document that concisely compares mission and vision statements.
- Nonprofit Growth provides steps and strategies for writing a mission statement and includes examples of existing ones.
After writing a mission statement that answers what you intend to do, the next step is to develop a strategic plan that enumerates precisely how you intend to do it.
Like the mission statement, a strategic plan is not a static piece of prose. It is a living document, one that must be reviewed, and if necessary updated, at least every few years to reflect the relationship of your organization to its internal and external environments. The strategic plan and the mission statement are closely tied to one another; the goal of a strategic plan is to lay out your organization’s approach to sustainably living up to its mission statement and fulfilling the vision statement. A strategic plan is not the same as a long-term plan, which is basically a way to extend an existing strategic plan. Typically spanning five to seven years, the strategic plan explains the following:
- The critical issues facing your organization as it pursues its mission and vision, both internally and externally (including laws, budgets, funding mandates, and the expectation of the organization’s stakeholders)
- The strengths, weaknesses, and areas of opportunity for the museum
- The resources already available to the museum
- A clear set of goals and strategies in response to the three bullet points above
- The resources still necessary to achieve these goals (financial and human)
- An implementation plan for these goals, including the means of implementation
- A strategy for periodic evaluation and reassessment of the organization
- A method and means of measuring the success of the plan
The strategic plan should include input from all levels of your organization – from the board members, the executive director, and the staff. The planning process should also include representatives from your external stakeholders, including diverse communities of existing visitors and groups you want to attract, organizational or institutional partners, and funders. Designate a committee reflecting all these voices to write the formal document. It can also be useful to involve an outside facilitator who can push the group forward and identify tensions and silences. The resulting strategic plan should be clear and easy to read. Sections that are usually included are (adapted from the widely used manual Museum Administration 2.0 by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko):
- Introduction: Includes organizational commitment to the pursuit of these strategies and sometimes includes methodology used
- Executive Summary: A one to three page summary of the mission and vision statement within the context of the museum’s priorities
- Mission and Vision Statements: A short section including the mission and vision statement
- History: Briefly describes the founding of the museums and its history up until the present day
- Summary of Strategies and Goals: Includes the strategic thinking and organizational commitments guiding the museum
- Action Plans: Defines how the strategic plan will be achieved by outlining responsibilities, timelines, and required resources usually in the form of a table
- Evaluation: Introduces a measurable way for board and staff to evaluate the plan, its effectiveness, and outcomes
Ultimately, it is the director’s responsibility to ensure that the plan is implemented, though all staff, volunteers, and the board of directors have roles to play to make that happen.
Online? Sources for creating a strategic plan:
- The American Alliance of Museums published this guide on all aspects of creating a strategic plan.
- The Council of Nonprofits provides a brief document comparing a traditional and strategic board agenda.
Examples of a variety of strategic plans:
- The Champlain Trail Museum’s strategic plan
- The Wilton House Museum’s strategic plan
- The Science Museum of Virginia’s strategic plan
- The National Park Conservation Association’s strategic plan