Your Mission Statement is Not Your Story

Your stories exemplify your mission, but are not bound by it.

I lead the digital efforts at The Rockefeller Foundation, and I have the great pleasure and challenge to explore how digital can be leveraged to make our sector more effective.

Without question, digital has changed the game, and I am particularly fascinated how digital has created a moment of dynamism around storytelling. Many of us are far more connected to stories and information than we have ever been, yet the noise and ubiquity of this digital world makes it harder to surface and share stories that are meaningful and that can inspire social good.

In the digital era, the shape and delivery of stories has shifted dramatically. Long-form narrative and conventional journalism now share the stage with messages of 140 characters or fewer and images that disappear seconds after they are opened. While there have never been more ways to reach audiences, it has also never been more difficult to really reach them. 

We beta-launched Hatch for Good (now Storytelling for Good) to connect you to a suite of interactive and always-changing tools, ideas, thought pieces, case studies, and tips to help you craft, curate, and share impactful stories to promote the lives of humanity around the world.

Tens-of-thousands of people have utilized Storytelling for Good in the first few months since launching, and I’ve recently noticed something:

Our mission statements are preventing us from telling effective stories.

I think you’d agree that our stories are honest, visceral, and more human than most sectors could dream of, yet so many of us have a hard time even thinking of utilizing story, and instead rely on bullet points, jargon—and our mission statements—to communicate our social impact.

In each interactive toolkit on Storytelling for Good, the user is asked a number of questions, including the objective for their story or why the audience should care about their cause. Over and over again, users are entering their mission statements nearly verbatim into these prompts, as if on auto-pilot.

I understand why.

But your mission statement is not your organization’s story.

For all the good they do, missions statements are causing us to stumble when telling stories about our work. We’ve all shared the experience of receiving a robotic and canned response when asking someone–especially someone that works for a nonprofit–what they do for a living. How many times have you heard a response like “My organization’s vision is to…”?

So what can we do?

The first thing is to stop forcing our mission statements into every story. There are so many different kinds of stories we can tell about our cause and the people involved in it. Stories about the people whose lives are directly affected by the work. Stories about the people who join forces with us to create change. Stories that show the human consequences of the problem our organizations address—and the solutions that give people hope.

These stories exemplify your mission statement, but are not bound by it.

Here’s an illustration of the steps from one of the interactive toolkits on Storytelling for Good. This is the Social Impact Story Map, which introduces the people and the problems that play a role in your mission.

The map is designed to tell your story in a way that will captivate your audience and capture their attention. Some stories take shape in a video, others in a blog post, a Facebook update, a speech or an annual appeal. Regardless of the medium, the interactive toolkits guide you through questions about the characters in your story, the doubts or concerns facing them, the steps toward a possible solution, and obstacles along the way, and ultimately the impact on their lives.

These individual stories are clear and uncluttered and are tied to your organization’s core narrative. Together, these stories demonstrate the power of your mission statement and the social impact of your organization.

The social impact story map is just one tool on Storytelling for Good that will help you unleash the honest, stirring, and visceral stories that your audience is waiting for.