PERSONAL TRAINER: I am told my organisation should have a mission statement. Why?

STEPHEN BUBB, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO). Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com

"To be simply the best." That is one of the sillier mission statements I have seen from a manufacturing company in the Midlands. The commercial sector is abound with mission statements, often along similar lines. It is hard not to smile at the claims made "to be the best paper clip supplier in the world". And they like to put them on banners in offices or on pocket cards to carry in a wallet.

Mission statements can be a bit of a fad. There is certainly no point in having one if it arouses derision or cynicism. However, like all fads there is often sense behind them.

The point of a mission statement is to set out the focus and direction for the organisation. The idea is to encapsulate within a neat sentence or paragraph your main objective. That statement is then used to inform customers, clients and stakeholders about you.

If you have not got a mission statement, the process of drawing one up can often be useful in itself. It is an excellent focus for a staff discussion, at an away day for example. It would be good to involve your trustees and other stakeholders.

We often get too tied down in day-to-day operational matters and sometimes lose sight of our strategic direction. So a discussion about the overall focus can be used to generate ideas about where the organisation is going, how it is doing and what needs to change.

It is certainly true that if an organisation loses sight of its objectives, then it can atrophy or die. Being clear of your purpose is vital for success.

This is particularly important for the third sector. It is vital to keep clear the key purpose of the organisation and focus on it. Another advantage of a mission statement is that, if it is kept short, it can be used on publicity materials, stationery and the like to inform others. It is particularly important when the third sector has so many organisations with titles that are acronyms or words that don't immediately conjure up the main purpose.

The purpose may be clear from the title, as in The Alzheimer's Society.

An organisation called Rethink certainly needs to explain their main purpose (which is to help everyone affected by severe mental illnesses).

Some simple rules for any mission statement are to be clear and concise, focus on your key objective and purpose, and be meaningful.

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