Boiling It Down

A simmering pan of marinara sauce with fresh, colorful peppers c

I like to cook. And one of the skills I learned early on was that for the best results you need to allow time for things to reduce down, to simmer a bit so the extra moisture boils away and you are left with a more concentrated, robust flavor.

The same concept applies to your core organizational documents . . . your mission, vision, values, guiding principles, strategic framework, etc. Too often, organizations try to cram everything but the kitchen sink into these foundational “sauces”, and as a result everything comes out watered down, with no real flavor to distinguish it from another organization’s recipe. Granted, this approach is quicker and easier . . . just keep dumping ingredients in to make sure you don’t miss anything, give it a quick stir and call it good. Sure it’s rather bland . . . it’s not going to stand out in anyone’s memory as an amazing meal . . . but it covers the plate and fills people up.

I don’t know about you, but I think my organization and those it serves deserve more than something that covers the plate and fills people up. I want people to be able to look at our foundational documents and have a clear sense of who we are and what we’re about. How do you do that? Well, if I want to become a good cook, I am going to look to the best chef I can find for a few tips. So look around for an organization that you think has a powerful impact, and then take a look at their guiding purpose. Not that yours should look like theirs — it shouldn’t — but I’m guessing it might spark an awareness that sometimes less is more.

In an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (, Kevin Starr challenged organizations to “The Eight Word Mission Statement,” indicating that is “long enough to be specific and short enough to force clarity.” Top Nonprofits, in partnership with Third Sector Today, identified 30 top nonprofit vision statements ( The statements averaged 14.56 words, with the top 15 averaging 10.5 words. And in reading through the list, you know exactly what these organizations are about. If you’re going to be this concise, there is no room for what I call the “fuzzy foo foo” . . . you know those words that sound nice but nobody really knows what they mean.

Boiling your core organizational statements down to a clear but powerful focus means saying no be being all things to all people, which frankly is hard for many non-profits. What if a great opportunity comes along that doesn’t fit in that focus? . . . What if it does? If it isn’t related to the fundamental purpose of your organization, should you really be investing time and resources into it anyway?

One last thing about boiling your organizational recipe down to the essential ingredients . . . there is an energy and excitement that comes clearly communicating who you are and what you’re about. All of a sudden, your organization is bursting with the kind of flavor that keeps people coming back for more.

So how are things cooking in your organization? Bon appetite!

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