If the change is only to clarify or beautify the articulation of the same purpose, then it isn’t a Big Deal. You will need to check with a wide range of stakeholders about how your changes are interpreted, even if you don’t think you are changing the purpose one iota.
If, on the other hand, the organization has made a decision to:
- focus on a different issue, or…
- address the existing issue from a different world view, or…
- change its ambition for how the organization will address the issue,
then it is a Big Deal.
An organization with a mission of “Make The Bay Pristine” has always focused on solid waste as its core issue, with a reduction in waste as its primary metric of success, and with two primary activities:
- Media work to influence individuals and groups to reduce solid waste in the Bay, and
- Volunteer clean up days that remove and measure waste from the Bay.
The Board recently approved a new vision of no plastic bags used in retail stores in the geography surrounding The Bay, by law. Up to now, legislative strategies have not been inherent in the interpretation of the mission. This can create ripples; for example:
- One of the largest donors has been Big Green Grocers. However, the Grocers oppose plastic bag laws, preferring consumer education strategies instead. The Grocers have (by their own estimation) contributed over half of the endowment of the organization, which they now see as being used to fund a legal strategy against them. They want to talk about this.
- The cleanup days have been entirely free of controversy. However, several local organizations that have happily participated in the cleanup days in the past are now wondering if they will be seen as providing political ammunition to the legislative effort, and thus be “stained” by the controversy.
The addition of the new activity to the strategy (legislation) has upward ramifications on the mission. Previously, the purpose of the organization had been understood by the community to be about repairing a problem, in a non-controversial and non-confrontational manner. The organization was relatively a-political. Now, people infer a different meaning to the words “Make the Bay Pristine.”
I know, I know: can’t anything be simple and easy?!
Implications of Mission Change
At the moment of ratification, work must begin to align every activity with the new purpose. Vision and strategy must be revised, and stakeholders engaged. Resources that have been provided the organization for the fulfillment of the old mission may have been provided for a different reason. There’s a lot that is suddenly “up in the air.”
Sometimes it is easier to form an entirely new organization, rather than try and change the purpose of an existing one.
Either way, it leads to a good deal of work to be done.
Doing this work well is far less costly than ignoring it or short changing.