The Psychological and Emotional Logic
Mission is perhaps the defining feature of a nonprofit organization. Nonprofit organizations are distinguished from private-sector organizations in that their goal is [something other than to provide a profit for its owners,] which is generally understood to be a social mission. In the United States, the purpose embedded in this mission is central to the 501(c)(3) legal designation that grants nonprofits their tax-exempt status.1 But, at the same time, mission is one of the most elusive constructs in the arena of nonprofit management. The term is often used to describe an organization's purpose, aspirations, output, and strategy, to name but a few possibilities. Despite the consensus about the importance of mission, there is actually little agreement about what it really is, what it is supposed to do, and how it should be evaluated. In order to gain some purchase on the notion of mission, we may think about what mission is not and what it should not be expected to do for an organization, as well as what mission is and what it should be expected to do.
Mission is not a strategy, nor is it a strategic plan. Yet, even in the for-profit world, the terms mission and vision are often used interchangeably with strategy. This reflects the confusion and imprecision surrounding the notion of strategy (a problem in its own right).2 As I will discuss in the next chapter, strategy is an economic logic. It serves functions that are economic in nature and that must satisfy economic criteria to be considered effec-