Your Mission Statement is NOT Your Story

I recently spoke at an event about the potential of storytelling to drive social impact. One of the other event speakers was an executive at a large business software service provider. The speaker’s presentation was complemented by polished and expensive videos with messages of a hopeful future and a world of social justice that—at the very last second—featured the business software that makes all of the “social impact” possible.

Clever marketing? Yes.

Social impact? Doubtful.

I don’t blame them or the many other businesses forcing social impact messaging into their marketing campaigns. It’s simple: social impact resonates with consumers, which leads to stronger sales, especially in an increasingly noisy marketplace. (And just to be clear, there are plenty of organizations that are generating social and business returns, and I applaud them.) However, it’s time for social impact organizations to step up to the plate.

Organizations that are driving considerable social impact in the world often get stuck behind their mission statements. I’ve seen this problem first-hand with my recent work at The Rockefeller Foundation on a project to elevate the practice of storytelling for the social impact sector. We teamed with our grantee Hattaway Communications, and dozens of cross-sector and cross-discipline leaders to launch Hatch for Good, a tool to help organizations drive social change utilizing the power of digital storytelling.

Tens-of-thousands have utilized Hatch for Good in the first few months since launching, and I’ve noticed an alarming trend. In each interactive toolkit on Hatch 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.

Social impact organizations are unwaveringly dedicated to their missions—and rightfully so. The mission statement is the North Star, the clarion call, and the heartbeat of the organization. It’s what keeps staff motivated and donors invested.

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 what they do for a living. How many times have you heard the response like “My organization’s vision is to…”?

Far too many social impact organizations feel pressured to insert their mission statement into every story. The result is a story so crowded that the audience never had a chance be inspired to take action.

Meanwhile, that business software company just convinced another viewer that their product is generating real social impact.

So what can you do?

The first thing is to stop forcing your mission statement into every story. There are so many different kinds of stories you could tell about your cause and the people involved in it. Stories about the people whose lives are directly affected by your work—and the people who join forces with them to create change. Stories that show the human consequences of the problem your organization addresses—and the solutions that give people hope. These stories exemplify your mission statement, but are not bound by it.

Social Impact Story Map

Start by developing a Social Impact Story Map, which introduces the people and the problems that play a role in your cause. 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, or an annual appeal. Regardless of the medium, the interactive toolkit guides 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.

Stories with purpose don’t just materialize—they’re strategically planned, they’re creatively crafted, and they’re designed to achieve measurable outcomes. So go ahead. Step up to the plate, and show the world your real social impact.


John Haydon