Whatever windy drivel they might put forward as a corporate mission statement, mainstream for-profit businesses have a clear, central mission: make money for shareholders. Some do it more sustainably, some are nicer about it, but they’re all in the same boat. If they have a bad idea or execute poorly on a good one, they fail in their mission and eventually go out of business.
Mission statements in the social sector are often the same kind of word-salad, but there isn’t a common raison d’etre. As investors in impact, we—the Mulago Foundation—don’t want to wade through a bunch of verbiage about “empowerment,” “capacity-building,” and “sustainability”—we want to know exactly you’re trying to accomplish. We want to cut to the chase, and the tool that works for us is the eight-word mission statement. All we want is this:
A verb, a target population, and an outcome that implies something to measure—and we want in eight words or less.
Why eight words? It just seems to work. It’s long enough to be specific and short enough to force clarity. Save kids’ lives in Uganda. Rehabilitate coral reefs in the Western Pacific. Prevent maternal-child transmission of HIV in Africa. Get Zambian farmers out of poverty. These statements tell us exactly what the organization has set out to accomplish.