I sometimes wonder how many nonprofit leaders realize they are serving two distinct but related missions?
First, of course, is the mission of service particular to your institution or organization. You may have an education mission, a healthcare mission, a nutrition mission, a faith-filled mission, a mission to assist the homeless, etc. Most nonprofit leaders understand this mission and can, on demand, speak to why this mission should matter to donors and how they can be supportive of this mission. Easy enough.
But, there is a distinctively separate mission – related to the service mission, but different – that nonprofit leaders assume as well. This second mission is related to the nonprofit status of your institution. As a 501 (c) 3 organization (or similar-chartered organization), the US Internal Revenue Service provides you with a federal tax exemption. Additionally, because your institution is considered as offering a “public good,” you are considered a “charity” or “charitable organization.” Therefore, you have a mission to encourage and promote volunteerism and charitable giving and to provide opportunities for people to respond to your service mission with generosity.
Your work as a nonprofit leader necessarily includes extolling the virtues of charitable gift giving. It is one way nonprofits are distinct corporations from for-profit ones. Charitable support is a key component of the very structure and operational realities of your institution. The federal government has provided your tax-exempt status and, further encourages you to engage other citizens in financially supporting your cause through various charitable giving deductions for donors within the tax code. So, anchored deep within the very DNA of your institution is the mission to encourage charitable giving from your various publics.
But, as I think about how nonprofit leaders communicate their mission, I rarely hear this message of giving emerge. I hear and see communications about how the services provided by the nonprofit are needed – even essential – for a just, caring, fair, healthy, and educated world. However, I don’t hear much about the “giving is good” mission and how it evinces empathy, compassion, and understanding – traits that are far too uncommon in our world today. Sometimes, I don’t even sense a leadership disposition to encourage generosity among as many as possible.
Make no mistake, though, your mission of promoting generosity is every bit as important as your service mission. In fact, it may just be that it is this mission – this mission of encouraging a more generous and giving world – that will do the most good and will end up also funding your service mission.
As Mother Teresa was quoted to have said, “No money, no mission.”