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~February 2002~ Topics
  • What Business Are We In?

The Board Retreat
Second Step: Reflecting on the Organizational Mission

(See January 2002 Boards and Committees for the first article concerning Board Retreats)

It may seem obvious that board and staff cannot really work as a team if they are not committed to the organizational mission. However, many boards meet for years without discussing the mission of the organization. Assuming that everyone understands the mission and supports it can be a danger, resulting in disagreements based on differing values. (Those of you who have studied conflict management know that values conflicts are the most difficult to resolve.) The board retreat, whether its purpose is strategic planning or board development, is an ideal opportunity to find out if there is a mutual understanding of the purpose of the organization.

Many people have different notions of what a mission statement should be. Some say it should include three elements:

  1. A definition of the problem
  2. What makes the organization unique
  3. Whom are the beneficiaries of your work.

For retreat purposes, in particular, I prefer the approach that says that a mission statement should be a short, pithy statement of the business you are in: what you are trying to achieve. This shorter statement becomes an easy and powerful tool for board and staff to use in all marketing efforts, whether individual conversations, fund raising or presentations. More important, I think, is the fact that the more expansive form of mission statement can be filled with philosophic, earnest and visionary words, but may not define what the organization actually does. In this competitive world, organizations need to let people know what they actually do. It's not enough to mean well; we have to achieve results.

The "what business are we in" approach allows those present at the retreat to find out what each member thinks is the major purpose of the organization. Moreover, they may not all agree.

The retreat facilitator asks, "If you meet someone who asks you what this organization does, what do you say? Think about it for a minute, and then write down your answer to this question in about 25 words."

The facilitator then asks each person to read his/her statement. The facilitator writes significant words and phrases on the flip chart, underlining those which are repeated. This will demonstrate similarities (those ideas that are repeated) and differences (those ideas that are not).

The purpose of this exercise at this point on the agenda is to find out if there are differences among the board and staff as to what the business of the organization is and, if there are, to come to a clearer consensus as the retreat progresses. It is not the purpose, at this point, to rewrite the mission statement. If that is needed, the facilitator can suggest that two or three volunteers might review the statements and prepare a draft mission statement for the next day (if it is a two-day retreat) or for the next board meeting. This way the volunteers will be able to put the statements in the context of other items discussed at the retreat.

~ Coming In March Issue of Boards and Committees ~

Integral to clarification of the consensus is the next item on the agenda: a discussion of the core values of the organization. This will be discussed in the March issue of Boards and Committees.

Jeanne H. Bradner

Jeanne H. Bradner is an author, consultant, trainer and speaker on volunteerism, board development and leadership. She is the author of three publications, Passionate Volunteerism, The Board Member's Guide, A Beneficial Bestiary and Leading Volunteers for Results: Building Communities Today. She served as director of the Illinois Governor's Office of Voluntary Action, Midwest Regional Director of ACTION, and Executive Director of the Illinois Commission on Community Service. She is the volunteer program specialist for Illinois' Harper College Volunteer Management curriculum.

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Copyright 2002 by Nancy Macduff.
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