Recovering from a haiku snafu and a lifetime of lousy mission statements

I don’t recall what inspired me to sum up the board meeting in haiku verse, but the puzzled (okay, shocked) look on faces around the table left little doubt that doing so wasn’t a good idea. Needless to say, I’ve not attempted a repeat performance nor do I include haiku in my list of recommended tools for board chairs.

Never one to let words I’ve written go to waste, however, I posted the 17-syllable poems, four in all, to Generous Matters. Then I promptly forgot the sorry episode.

Until, that is, I spotted the article “Mission Haiku: The Poetry of Mission Statements” on the Nonprofit Quarterly blog. After years of sifting through tedious, tired, and too often trite mission statements, I was delighted to come across an apologetic for elegance, precision, and even, the poetic.


In contrast to the throw-in everything-but-the-kitchen-sink method of mission statement development that dominates in nonprofit circles, author Christopher Finney challenges organizational folk to tackle the task as if they are “composing a purposeful poem.”

The goal, as Finney describes it, is to weed out wordiness. To prune back to essentials. To seed the statement with “the honest, uncontrived truth of the organization’s purpose.”

“Think carefully about each word of your mission statement, about the range of denotations and connotations it carries, and about the effect it will have on readers. . . Consider your mission statement a poem, that is, a carefully-worded piece in which every syllable holds meaning.”

So forget my haiku snafu. Be inspired and inspiring and don’t worry about the occasional puzzled look or head scratching on the part of board members.

“A poetic mission statement may be the exact vehicle necessary to capture your audience.”

For more on organizational mission statements, see:

Ask and a helpful mission statement will be given to you

Say it in a tweet: summing up your organization in 140 characters or less



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