Mission Drift: And what it means for your Not-for-Profit Organization

A mission statement is critical to a Not-for-Profit Organization. A stated focus is key – an “anchor” for the Organization. The mission statement should drive all decisions made by the Organization and should be embodied by every member of the Organization – employees, management, and the board of directors. Most importantly, the mission statement supports the tax-exempt purpose of the Not-for-Profit Organization.

Mission drift occurs when the Organization begins to move away from the purpose and goals outlined in the mission statement. Mission drift can happen multiple ways: slowly, over time; at a decided point in time; intentionally; or unintentionally. One of the unintended consequences of mission drift is a loss of donors. Donors want to give their money to Organizations that use the gift to further their stated mission. If donors see a drift from your stated mission, they may choose to gift their dollars elsewhere. Another potential consequence of mission drift is IRS review – a determination of whether the Organization still qualifies as tax-exempt.

Mission drift isn’t all bad – sometimes an Organization redefines their mission statement to more accurately “zone in” on the programs they are offering or the population they are serving. Some movement from your original mission statement is normal. The danger is in straying too far from the Organization’s original mission statement. A Not-for-Profit organization can modify their mission statement without issue a long as the updated mission statement supports the Organization’s tax-exempt status and the Organization notifies the IRS, donors, and their members, if applicable.

In order to stay “mission true,” remember to keep the Organization’s mission statement in front of you. Discuss it regularly at board meetings. Hang a printed copy on the wall. Encourage employees, management, and board members to speak up if they have any concerns about mission drift.

If you have questions regarding potential mission drift in your Not-for-Profit Organization, please reach out to the DBC NPO Niche team today.

Carol A. Burley, CPA
Senior Manager
NPO Niche Chair