Using Mission, Vision and Values to Inspire Volunteer Leadership for Your Organization

by Kay Sprinkel Grace, CFRE

As philanthropy matures globally there is an increased desire on the part of organizations in all locations to increase the number and commitment of volunteer leaders involved in fund raising, advocacy and other activities that will benefit the organization and the community. Whether the organization is volunteer-run and in need of more volunteers, or staff-run and wanting to engage community people in its programs, the goal is the same – to find ways to effectively recruit, enlist and continually inspire volunteers.

The three critical factors that attract, inspire and continually motivate volunteers are already at the heart of all successful nonprofits – mission, vision and values.

Working as both a volunteer and a professional with a wide variety of organizations, I have observed that continually communicating the organization’s mission, vision and values easily distinguishes those organizations whose volunteers remain loyal and motivated from those that are continually frustrated by the lack of volunteer engagement. To effectively communicate mission, vision and values you need to understand what each is, and why each is so important.


Most organizations have a mission statement. And, most mission statements describe what an organization does. While this is important, it is not the first message you need to communicate. First – to inspire giving and volunteering – you have to communicate why you exist.

What is the need you are meeting? Without an understanding of why you exist, it is more difficult to be inspired by what you are doing. Your “what” lacks passion and reason without the “why” – particularly when volunteers or donors are attempting to assess the many options presented to them for involvement.

The preparation or review of mission statements provides opportunities for volunteers to see the why and to understand the what. The process gets them involved. And, once the statement has been affirmed or revised, communicate the statement in speeches, materials and on your Website to get others inspired.

An example from Vector Health Programs of Eureka, California, makes the point. Their original mission statement simply described what the organization does – provide medical programs for people with injuries or other problems with their hands. When the Executive Director read the original mission statement to a class at The Fund Raising School, I listened and then said, “Why?”

She was startled. To her, the reasons why you would have a medical program for injured hands were apparent. She said, “Because people need their hands”. I said, “Why?”. Then she was really startled. “Because people do things with their hands,” she said.

I responded, “Write a mission statement that tells me why.” This is what she wrote:

Next to the human face, hands are our most expressive feature. We talk with them. We work with them. We play with them. We comfort and love with them. An injury to the hand affects a person professionally and personally. At Vector Health Programs, we give people back the use of their hands.”

The class – and subsequent classes where I have shared this – got the point immediately. This mission statement inspires and motivates.


Aligned with mission is vision. If the mission is the expression of why the organization exists, the vision is the expression of what the community and the organization would look like and be like if that need were met.

To have a vision is to be visionary; to share a vision is to be a leader. Whatever vision you have for your organization, share it with others. A vision is very inspiring to all volunteers – it lets them know where the organization is going and provides them with a motivating message that can be shared with others.

When recruiting volunteers, cultivating donors, or asking for gifts, there is no substitute for the ability to communicate and enroll others in the achievement of your vision. It is the platform for conveying outcomes to donor-investors and also a strong motivator for maintaining volunteer commitment.


Values are the basis of philanthropy, and fund raising is how we provide opportunities for people to act on their values. Values are reflected in the mission (why you exist) and surround the vision. Values come from leadership and attract leadership. Staying true to your organizational values is the measure of your integrity; values are the filter through which volunteers view us, join us, support us and get others to invest in us.

It is a good exercise to have an organization identify its own values. Volunteers and staff, seated at a boardroom or other meeting table, when asked to write down the three values they feel are the most important to the organization, will surprise themselves and each other – and find a common meeting ground – when they share those values. Without exception, they will find that the values they identify are nearly the same. They have been drawn to the organization because they understand its values-inspired focus on issues that matter to them.

People will respond because your organization’s values resonate with theirs. When we recruit and enlist volunteers, it is important to find out what they value and then connect them with the people and programs where their values will be most appreciated.

With potential donors, we need to spend much more time uncovering shared values and less time focusing on fund raising. Without knowing what a potential funder’s values are, fund raising can be an ineffectual process for the volunteer or staff person. When the values are known, it is an easier and often joyful process to show the person how their investment is a lasting way to communicate their values in the community.

Look at your marketing materials: do you communicate your values in such a way that those who share your values will be drawn to you? Or, do you focus on the organization and its attributes only?

Tying Mission, Vision and Values Together

Mission, vision and values are clearly related. Together, they comprise the center core of effective development/fundraising and volunteer programs. Be sure these three things are present in all training you do with volunteers, in all your marketing materials both to the community and inside your organization, and that your board members and staff leaders can communicate them clearly, easily and constantly.

In your board, staff or other volunteer meetings, work to ensure that they are not “bored” meetings – too focused on the organizational issues. Better to emphasize why you exist, the impact you are having, and why your values are critical to the health of your community.

Have a “mission moment” at every board meeting – give five to ten minutes of your meeting to invite a person from the community who has benefited from your program, to tell you why your organization is important, and why he or she is grateful for its work and the investment of the donors. There is no substitute for the impact of this in keeping the mission, vision and values fresh and vital.

If this sounds like lots of work, think to the future. While it may take extra effort to get the program started – to identify and communicate the mission, vision and values effectively – you will find the benefits overwhelm the time required.

You will find that you have expanded your outreach and impact. More people will be telling your story, and you will be having more impact because of the leveraging of resources. By unleashing the passion people feel about their values, the shared vision, and the why of your organization, they will pass that passion along to others. There will be greater commitment (sustained passion) and a greater number of advocates working for you out in the community reaching more constituencies than ever before.

Committed volunteers are engaged, not just involved. They are solid investors of their time, and also their money, and they are interested in enhancing their investment and keeping it strong. Volunteers want to see the transformation of donors into donor-investors, and they become more articulate advocates as they grow more closely involved with the vision and mission.

And, the Result?

Ultimately, more money is raised from the community because the mission and values are more visible. More people are asking, and they are more enthused while they are asking. They realize they are asking people to give not because they are a needy organization, but because they are an organization that is meeting needs.

As leadership of your organization embraces this new model, it, too, will grow stronger. The new attitude and the spirit of innovation will also attract new leadership – a challenge with which many organizations continually wrestle. The heightened level of community advocacy that comes from focusing on the issues your organization is addressing will also connect your leaders with other leaders who are concerned with the same issues, and will raise your visibility in the community.

Like all formulas for moving an organization forward, you will have to decide what will work and what will not, and just how fast you can go. If you need to, start small. Determine where you can begin, and just get started. You will find even the smallest change makes a measurable difference.

Kay Sprinkel Grace, CFRE (San Francisco, CA), is an internationally acclaimed independent consultant, speaker, facilitator, and writer. This post is derived from a Workshop presented for the International Fundraising Congress, on “How to Communicate Your Mission, Vision and Values to Inspire Your Volunteers”

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