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Author’s Note: This post is the first part in an eight-part series on the strategic framework of the nonprofit organization – United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Click here to read the full series.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan was created by a merger of United Way Community Services and the United Way of Oakland on April 1, 2005. Previously, these latter two organizations had been serving the southeastern Michigan region since 1912. Now, the newly-formed United Way was tasked with operating more efficiently and effectively.

When I came aboard to lead the “new” United Way, one of the first things I did was to work with a handful of volunteers and community partners to develop a mission statement for the organization. Huddled around a conference-room table on the top floor of DTE, overlooking the city of Detroit and the wider metropolitan area, we developed the following:

“The mission of United Way for Southeastern Michigan is to mobilize the caring power of Detroit and Southeastern Michigan to improve communities and individual lives.”

I remember a moment when we felt confident in the language we had crafted, until I heard Steve Ewing, then CEO of MichCon, say, “There is one problem with this statement.  We don’t have anything about measurement.  How will we know we are successful?  I don’t think this mission should leave this room without that incorporated into it.”

We realized what Steve said would be the key to our future.  So, we decided to incorporate three words to the end — ‘in measurable ways.’  We paused after that, looking to one another, feeling as if we had crafted a mission that could stand the test of time.

This is how I think of our mission:

What do we uniquely do?

We mobilize individuals, organizations and networks.

What do we mobilize?

We mobilize the caring power of these individuals, organizations and networks.

Where do we mobilize this caring power?

In Detroit and Southeastern Michigan (Note: There was much discussion about whether to use Detroit or Southeastern Michigan in the mission. We concluded that Detroit’s importance to the region as a whole warranted its use in the mission.)

To what end?

To improve communities and lives.  (Note: We felt strongly that community and neighborhood economic success is not attainable without individual success.)

How will we know we have made progress?

By holding ourselves accountable in measurable ways against specific social outcomes. (Note: Steve Ewing was right.  The  Board meetings today always lift up  this aspect of our mission.  Are we making progress and how do we know?)

This mission believes that the region could and would work together in new ways to create a better life for individuals and families. We have an inherent belief is this ‘caring power,’ and with the right efforts, it can be focused to make progress on the toughest social issues. And uniquely, United Way is at its best when it brings together the public, private and nonprofit sectors toward a common outcome.

We thrive when there is strong diversity wrapped around this mission, and we each come as strong trustees of the whole, not just for our own self-interest.

There is a reason why the first word in our name is United.  It isn’t Divided Way. It is United Way. We believe that progress will be made when we lift up our interdependence and focus on issues we all share in common: a better life for ourselves, our neighbors and our fellow citizens.

Other blog posts on Building a Strong Nonprofit

Building a Strong Nonprofit Part 2: What’s a BHAG?
Building a Strong Nonprofit Part 3: Core Values
Building a Strong Nonprofit Part 4: Crafting a Purpose Statement
Building a Strong Nonprofit Part 5: Our Theory Of Change
Building a Strong Nonprofit Part 6: Strategic Anchors
Building a Strong Nonprofit Part 7: Engagement Pyramid and Cycle
Building a Strong Nonprofit Part 8: Board Roles

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