The Charitable Purpose – the Touchstone for the Organisation
Many corporate mission statements are simply clever PR, designed to impress but not necessarily lived. Back in the days when it was safe to go to people’s offices for face-to-face meetings, I was always fascinated to see the Vision, Mission, and in some cases the Strategic Objectives of the organisation I was visiting on prominent display in their public spaces. Despite no specific evidence, I somehow felt that these organisations were more focused and internally harmonious, and I also got the strong impression that they were living their vision and mission. Having made the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ so visible to the public, it established for staff and visiting service providers the subtle understanding that ‘this is how we do business’.
In a charity or not-for-profit organisation, the public display of the charitable purpose is much more common and far more perceptibly ‘lived’. During the run up to the introduction of the Charities Regulator and the formal Governance Code, one of the consistent and main themes was the restatement of the charitable purpose. There is an obligation on organisations to publish it on their websites, in public documents, on the agenda of board meetings, and in many other places.
The statement of the charitable purpose combined with a description of ‘what we will do’ and ‘how we will do it’ has the effect of galvanising the organisation around specific well-defined processes that have measurable outcomes. Adding the third element of the purpose – describing the beneficiaries, the ‘who’ and the ‘where’, adds clarity and prevents “mission creep”.
A well-crafted statement of charitable purpose is an excellent tool to guide all the efforts and interactions of the organisation. It is the touchstone – it should be what is ‘lived’ throughout the organisation. Having clarity about why the organisation exists and how it will operate makes decisions easier to make.
The charitable purpose sets out the operating envelope and generally everybody, the board, the executive, staff, volunteers, service providers (and the public) can understand how and why the organisation operates. Revisiting the statement reinforces ‘buy-in’ and reminds all stakeholders, particularly the leadership team, of the need to be in agreement on all matters that might impact on that purpose.