November 22, 2013

The Difference Between Purpose and Mission

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If you want the people your organization cares most about to connect with its mission and impact, you need to be clear about why, how, and what you do in a manner meaningful to your audience.

the difference between purpose, mission, and vision

With that in mind, just what is the difference between your organization’s purpose, mission, and vision?

I receive a daily email from In The Company of Prayer, with insights from business leaders on how their faith impacts their companies and business relationships.

A recent email from the executive editor Leslie Bianco concluded with the following statements:

  • WHY: We're here to guide each other that one step further along a personal journey.
  • WHAT: By revealing a Knowing Presence where you may not expect to find it.
  • HOW: Through our Morning Briefing workday emails, book series, social media, conversations and personal interaction.

Do you recognize these three statements for what they are? Let's change out a couple of words:

  • Why Purpose: We're here to guide each other that one step further along a personal journey.
  • What Vision: To reveal a Knowing Presence where you may not expect to find it.
  • How Mission (Strategy, the path to purpose): Through our Morning Briefing workday emails, book series, social media, conversations and personal interaction.

Purpose, mission, and vision statements can be confusing. It's rare to find two organizations that agree on common usage, definition and application of the words. It can be even more confusing to understand why each word is relevant, and how each component relates to one another. Some organizations tend to substitute their mission and vision for their purpose. If you want your audience to connect with your mission, you need to communicate with clarity about why, what, and how you are creating value and impact.

If you're traveling anywhere, you begin at one point along a certain path, and eventually, arrive at your destination. You begin with the end in mind; you are guided by why you went on the journey, driven by how you followed the path, and what you expected to find when you arrived. As Kevin Starr, director of the Mulago Foundation and the Rainer Arnhold Fellows Program states, "You have to know where you're going to be able to figure out the best way to get there."

When you begin any journey, you subconsciously have an inner conversation around these four questions:

  • Why am I going to a particular destination?
  • How will I get there?”
  • What will it be like when I arrive?”
  • “Who will I see when I arrive?”

Without realizing it, you worked within a purpose-driven framework.

Purpose focuses on four elements of impact:

  • Why do you believe you can make a difference? — Purpose needs a reason.
  • Who do you work to impact? — Purpose needs people.
  • How do you achieve the impact? — Purpose needs a plan.
  • What will impact look like when you achieve it? — Purpose needs vision and impact.

Start with Purpose to Understand the Difference between Mission and Vision

  • You begin with a purpose. A purpose is the why your organization has begun a journey, guided by the deeply-held values and beliefs that inspire it to make a difference.
  • Your mission follows the path your organization sets to arrive at its destination: When someone asks you where you are going, they ask you how you are going to get there. Your mission is the how: the unique way you do what you do, the path you choose to follow, the decisions you make to get to your destination. Will you follow a focused and direct path; or one that wanders? A mission-driven path will be direct, and you'll be doing what matters. That's how you get from one point to another.
  • Vision is your destination, at a point in the near or distant future. It's your goal, and what you expect to find when you arrive at the destination. What can also be the specific product or service you sell. Your mission is your vision in action, connecting your purpose with your impact.

raise your voice cause manifesto 75pxExplore the difference between purpose, mission, and vision in Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto.

If you're creating or evaluating your mission statement, consider substituting the words Why, How, and What, for Purpose, Mission, and Vision. These words will help you minimize any confusion between the terms and what they mean.

  • Purpose guides you. Your purpose statement articulates why you do what you do, why your organization exists, and why you serve a higher purpose (your cause).
  • Mission drives you. Your mission statement is how you accomplish your purpose; your mission is what drives you every day to fulfill your purpose. It's a direct path to your purpose and vision. Mission is doing what matters and eliminating the distractions; it unlocks the strategy that delivers results and impact.
  • Vision is where you aspire to be. Your vision statement is what you will achieve in the future, the results you want to reach for, the measurable impact you want to make. Your vision reminds you what the difference you make will look like, what change will happen. Vision aligns leaders and followers. It is an ongoing process of aligning your mission with your purpose. Vision keeps you on course, to fulfill your purpose.
  • Impact is what matters: What are the strategic goals that align with your purpose, and what are the measurable results of achieving your vision?

The difference between purpose mission vision impact Aespire BrandingA good mission statement and vision statement are best suited for internal organizational guidance. Purpose keeps you focused on why you exist, vision aligns you with your goal, and mission empowers how you will accomplish it. Done well, it will inspire and motivate you every day, and just might inspire your audience.

To inspire your followers, you'll want to focus on a purpose statement that articulates why your organization matters, and why your cause is meaningful. Open up to who you are, what you do, and why what you do matters. Communicate your values, revealing the character that guides your culture. Your audience will connect more deeply with the higher purpose, character, and vision of your organization, than with even the most effective mission statement.

Your company’s values and purpose are best shared through a compelling narrative and stories, not your mission statement.

When your audience knows why your organization matters, they will know if your cause is meaningful. When a supporter connects with your purpose, they will believe in your mission. When they all align, you will achieve greater impact for the cause you care about. Purpose is the foundation of mission and vision, but impact is what matters.

Listen to what your followers are saying: “Tell me what you believe. Inspire me in a way that speaks to my mind, and touches my heart. Point me to a higher calling that gives me meaning, and connects my heart with yours.”

“Through your culture – your character in action — inspire me with the values that guide how you interact and communicate with me. Make me part of your community that is working for the greater good.”

“Then you will have inspired me, and I will follow.”


raise your voice cause manifesto 75pxFollow In The Company of Prayer and receive a brief email to start your day. Explore the difference between purpose, mission, and vision in Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto.

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