SEMINARS

Organization and Management of NGOs
The Mandate, The Vision and The Mission

Zainab Salbi

The Mandate of an Organization

Before an organization identifies its mission and values, its formal and informal requirements must be clear. Formal requirements are likely to be laws and by-laws. Internally there are by-laws and employees’ manuals that regulate the organization, for example, how the board of directors should pass any new program, and how board meetings should be conducted. By-laws are the constitution of the organization. Employees’ manuals stipulate the staff’s rights, duties, and working hours, etc. Externally there are laws and regulations as stipulated by superior authorities or the government itself. In Bosnia, for example, non-profits are not allowed to work with micro-credits, because doing so creates a profit through charging interest. The mandate of a women’s organization with a credit program may argue that the overall goal is to help women but the authorities will refuse, saying that profit-making for non-profit organizations is prohibited by the law. In transitional societies the relationship between the government and the NGO sector is often vague, because there are still no official by-laws that regulate and govern such a relationship.

Informal mandates are not necessarily less restricting; these include the cultural traditions, norms, and ethical standards prevailing in a society or among stakeholders. Social values can be equally as important as formal law and legislation. For example, an organization that wished to promote women riding bicycles in Ramallah would be restricted by an informal mandate imposed by the society, which deems it unacceptable for women to ride bicycles.

The main benefit of determining the mandate is that it increases the likelihood that it will be met. Whether it is restrictive or not, by knowing what the mandate is an organization also knows its limits and boundaries. A clear mandate therefore helps in formulating a clear mission and sets the framework for possible organizational actions.

The Mission and the Vision

Mission versus Vision

In short, a mission is a purpose while a vision is a dream. A mission clarifies the organization’s purpose, i.e., what it is doing and why it is doing what it does. The vision, on the other hand, clarifies how the organization wants to look and how it should act in the future to fulfill its mission; it communicates enthusiasm and provides the organization with something to aspire to.

The vision of Women for Women is to help women refugees in any war situation build up their lives and stand on their feet. Based on this, the mission explains what Women for Women wants to do and how. It is similar to a personal dream: if, for example, someone wants to become a member of parliament within five years (vision) everything she or he will work for is to help her/him reach that position (mission).

A vision can be wide and contain various aspects of the ‘dream’ that is to be accomplished, while the mission needs to be more specific. Several organizations might have the same vision but their respective missions to accomplish their goals could each have a different focus. For example, the vision of women’s organizations is usually to empower women, whereby some of them might focus on legal issues, while others might emphasize social or economic aspects or concentrate on training and skills development.

The importance of the mission is that it specifies the organization’s purpose as well as the philosophy and values that guide it. Bryson argues that "unless the purpose is focused on socially useful and justifiable ends, the organization cannot hope to identify the resources it needs to survive, including high quality and committed employees." A mission that is genuine will create enthusiasm and excitement within the organization, whether amongst stakeholders, staff or board members. In staff interviews one should examine whether the applicant agrees with what the organization is doing, because someone who cares and believes in what the organization stands for will do a far better job.

Finally, a mission statement helps in solving conflicts within an organization. Since the mission provides guidelines regarding the needs, purpose and activities of the organization, it functions not only as an accepted base of shared values but also puts personal views and assumptions in context.

Stakeholder Analysis

Before drafting a mission statement, a stakeholder analysis should be done in order to verify the required services. It is similar to market research: the collection of information about clients and their needs will help the decision-makers clarify and define the organization’s arena of action. Similar analyses for funders or staff, etc., can be equally useful.

A stakeholder analysis does not have to include everyone but should be based on a random sample that represents a variety of ages and economic backgrounds. For example, a staff survey should include representatives from among the junior staff, the senior staff, the management, and program assistants or volunteers. Even if an organization is newly established, a stakeholder analysis is useful: at the beginning there is a vision and accordingly, there are potential stakeholders, i.e., the people or target group one would like to serve or else work with.

There are different ways of doing a stakeholder analysis. One method involves conducting a survey, asking the stakeholders about their needs and demands, how they evaluate the organization and its programs (satisfactory or not, helpful or not, etc.), and what kind of additional projects they would suggest. Such surveys can also include an evaluation of the organization’s impact on the stakeholders, for example by looking at how much money they had before as compared to after a project or how an employment strategy fits in with the demand for jobs. If the clients are illiterate, which is often the case in developing countries, the survey questions can be read to them and answers filled in on their behalf.

Another method is conversation, i.e., going out to the field and talking to people about their demands, perceptions and suggestions. The findings and the impression their responses leave should be documented in a report. The problem with conversation, however, is that people are often hesitant to say directly what they otherwise would write down in a more anonymous (open answer) questionnaire.

Finally, there is guessing, which is the weakest method because it is based on personal impressions about what an organization has encountered during a certain period and not on facts or clear answers resulting from a questionnaire. Guessing should only be applied to people whose overall opinion and attitude is familiar territory.

All three methods can also be combined. The surveys will provide the stakeholders’ opinion in their own words; guessing and predictions from conversation can gather additional information, which might deviate from or supplement the survey results. The results of the analysis will give the organization some direction concerning its positive and negative aspects and should certainly be presented and discussed during board meetings.

Finally, a stakeholder analysis should not be mistaken for an evaluation. It is only a look at the clients’ reaction to an organization’s performance, i.e., their responses, feedback, and overall satisfaction. The following example will illustrate this: In Bosnia, Women for Women ran a micro-credit project involving women of all ages, many of them illiterate. Part of the program was a one-week business training course to teach them organizational, planning and marketing skills. In the beginning they were annoyed and made comments such as "What are you? A bunch of city women. Are you going to teach us how to milk the cows? What can you possibly teach us?" Such initial reactions do not mean that the program had failed. Later, the program evaluation showed totally different results: the women’s income had increased, and many had learned how to read and write, etc. Program evaluation measures the success of a project, not the responses of those involved.

Writing a Mission Statement

"The mission statement is a declaration of the organization’s purpose", as Bryson puts it. Sometimes a paragraph or two, sometimes more than a page, its length will depend on what the organization does or wants to accomplish through its mission statement.

When writing the mission statement the following questions should be answered:

Who are we? The first section of a mission statement should always be about the general identity of the organization. For example, "Women for Women is an American-based, non-profit, humanitarian, interfaith organization." The reason is the need to distinguish between who we are and what we are doing.

What are we doing? The second step should address the basic socioeconomic, humanitarian or political issues and problems that the organization intends to tackle or solve. Women for Women, for example, aims at helping women survivors of war and genocide worldwide. It does so by providing women with social, economic, political and interpersonal support. This is very general, but it states exactly what Women for Women is, does and for whom it does it. While the goal(s) of the organization should be clear, e.g., ‘empowerment of women’, there should be no detailed listing of programs and projects, such as ‘micro-credit enterprises’ or ‘training program’. An organization might change its activities but not the goal.

Why are we doing it? Also included in the mission statement should be the philosophy, values and the culture behind the organization’s goals or approach. This makes an organization distinctive or unique amongst other organizations and gives the stakeholders and funders a reason why it is worth their attention or support. For example, the statement "We believe education empowers society and the teacher is one of the main people in the educational process", clearly identifies the underlying philosophy and values.

If an organization cannot come to an immediate agreement on the mission statement or the process is taking too long, it is advisable to stop and come back to it later. The strategic plan itself can be pursued along the vision and purpose of the organization, while the mission statement can be formulated later in the cycle. At the end of the planning process, the strategic plan should be re-examined, and it might be only then that the mission statement receives it final modifications.

Establishing a Vision

While the mission outlines the organization’s purpose, the vision describes what the organization will look like in the future. The vision is more imaginary and requires a visionary leader or group, with the ability to think long-term. A vision statement forms the framework for an organization’s general philosophy, goals, strategies, ethical standards and performance criteria. Ideally, a vision statement improves the organization’s effectiveness and productivity because it motivates and guides everyone involved to work towards a certain goal.

A vision statement should:

be general (which allows it to survive even in an unstable environment)

be short, precise and clear

include a promise that the organization will support its members’ pursuit of the vision;

clarify the organization’s direction and purpose;

focus on a better future;

reflect high ideals in challenging ambitions;

and stress the organization’s distinctive and unique components.

In trying to formulate a vision statement, the organization’s decision-body, steering committee or other sub-groups could be asked to draft a ‘scenario’. Other methods are to hold brainstorming sessions with various members of the organization or post notes on the organization’s boards, inviting the employees to comment what they view as most important, and then compile and put down the major points. This first draft vision should be widely circulated amongst the organization’s members and other key stakeholders; if the relevant people - stakeholders, board members, or funders - do not know the vision, it has little effect on the organization. Everyone must be aware of the vision and apply it to any major and minor organizational decisions and actions. For the beneficiaries it is also important to know the vision because it forms criteria for judgment. For example, if an organization runs a micro-credit program to empower women, the beneficiaries might think the vision is to provide credit while in fact it is women’s empowerment and the micro-credit program is only one of the smaller pieces fitting into the larger picture to accomplish the vision. Empowerment of women is also the vision of Women for Women. If, after ten years, women in Bosnia have more rights, are economically more independent, and more active in the political system, then the work was successful.

Organizations are part of the society and it is always possible that there are different actors working in the same field and even towards the same vision. This is not a problem; for example if there are several women’s groups lobbying to change the divorce law and give women more rights, their number does not negate the value of their respective work. If they succeed, each has accomplished its goal.

Once the vision is accomplished, an organization needs to re-evaluate itself as well as its environment, and decide whether to change the vision, mission, and programs, etc.