How to Write Great Taglines and Mission Statements

Do They Reinforce One Another?

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Do taglines and mission statements matter for nonprofits? Two nonprofit experts say they do and suggest how nonprofits can write better ones.

Nancy E. Schwartz, of Getting Attention, created the "Outstanding Nonprofit Taglines Competition" to showcase the best nonprofit taglines. There is an art to taglines, but they all link back to a strong mission statement.

Nancy Lublin, CEO of Do Something, wrote in Fast company, that, "Mission statements don't have to be dumb.

In fact, they can be very valuable, if they articulate real targets."

Lublin says that nonprofits typically prefer, "...warm, fuzzy words that have all the gloss of inspiration and none of the soul and drive of the real thing." She challenges organizations to, "Take your wonky mission statement and rip it to shreds. Then ponder your ambitions, and write and rewrite the thing until it reflects--in real, printable words and figures--the difference you want to make."

Since taglines, in their pithy brevity, express the essence of an organization's mission, I decided to compare taglines with their mission statements to see how they worked together. 

Taglines, Missions, and Implementation

Here are the thirteen Winners of one of the Getting Attention Tagline Competitions. I've paired the taglines with each organization's mission statement from its website. How well do they correlate? Are they equally well written?

Do the taglines and the mission statements reinforce one another? Does the mission statement measure up to Lublin's high standard? (The tagline comments are by Nancy, and the mission comments are mine.)

  • "Big Sky. Big Land. Big History." - Montana Historical Society

    Why it works:

    The Montana Historical Society takes its state's most elemental and distinctive characteristics (Big Sky, Big Land) and deftly melds them with its mission in a way that generates excitement. The result is a tagline with punch and focus. And a big hit with voters.

    Mission Statement:
    There is no specified mission statement on the website, but the first sentence on the about page serves: "The Museum collects, preserves, and interprets fine art, historical, archaeological, and ethnological artifacts that pertain to Montana and its adjoining geographic region." Direct, active, easy-to-find, echoes the tagline.

  • "Building community deep in the hearts of Texans" - TexasNonprofits

    Why it works:

    TexasNonprofits' tagline tweaks the title of an iconic American popular song from the 1940s and brilliantly connects it to the spirit, passion and mission of the state's citizenry. A great example of how word play works in a tagline.

    Mission Statement:
    "TXNP strengthens Texas communities by providing up-to-date data and other resources and support via the Internet to help build stronger and bigger nonprofits that can perform and operate professionally, efficiently, and with greater accountability..." "Mission" is a link on the about page. It is active and plays well with the tagline.

  • "Holding Power Accountable" - Common Cause

    Why it works:

    Common Cause's tagline leaves no doubt about the organization's mission, unique value and commitment. It's definitive, with a powerful economy of words. An excellent example of the tagline clarifying the nonprofit's focus, when the organization's name alone doesn't do so.

    Mission Statement:
    "Common Cause is dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, reinventing an open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest, and empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard in the political process." This is the first paragraph of a "vision statement" on the about page. It is accessible and connects well with the tagline

  • "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste® - UNCF -The United Negro College Fund

    Why it works:

    This 38-year-old tagline from UNCF still rings strong. It elegantly delivers its straight up, powerful message. When your tagline is the boiled-down essence of your argument for support, you've achieved tagline bliss. That's why this one is a classic.

    Mission Statement:
    "Our mission is to enhance the quality of education by providing financial assistance to deserving students, raising operating funds for member colleges and universities, and increasing access to technology for students and faculty at historically black colleges and universities." The mission is a sublink on the about us page. It is a bit institutional and more descriptive than active.

  • "Because the earth needs a good lawyer" - Earthjustice

    Why it works:

    Earthjustice capitalizes on what people do understand - that a lawyer protects rights - and uses that framework to dramatically position its role and impact in the environmental movement. And it does so with humor. If your tagline makes people smile or light up, without stepping on your message, then you've made an emotional connection…Bravo.

    Mission Statement:
    "Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment." The mission is at the top of the about page, captioning a beautiful wildlife photo.

  • "If you want to be remembered, do something memorable." - The Cleveland Foundation

    Why it works:

    It's a rare tagline that manages to recruit people to its cause both unabashedly and effectively. That's exactly what The Cleveland Foundation pulls off here. Clear, concise, and…memorable! A model for any organization promoting philanthropy.

    Mission Statement:
    "The mission of the Cleveland Foundation is to enhance the lives of all residents of Greater Cleveland, now and for generations to come, by...." This is the first paragraph on the about page. The tagline doesn't actually appear on the website.

We continue with our critique of taglines and mission statements.

  • "Finding a cure our daughters won't have to." © - PA Breast Cancer Coalition

    Why it works:

    The PA Breast Cancer Coalition's tagline is both emphatic and poignant. It strikes a deep emotional chord, and conveys the focus and impact of its work without being overly sentimental. "Finding a cure," a highly used phrase for health organizations, is bolstered here by the appeal to solve a problem now so future generations won't suffer from it.

    Mission Statement:
    "The PA Breast Cancer Coalition represents, supports and serves breast cancer survivors and their families in Pennsylvania through educational programming, legislative advocacy and breast cancer research grants. The PBCC is a statewide non-profit organization that creates the hope of a brighter tomorrow by providing action and information to women with breast cancer today." Mission is a clickable link on the about page. Easy to find, actively stated, works well with tagline. Words such as represents, supports, serves, and creates make this a strong statment.

  • "Filling pantries. Filling lives." - Houston Food Bank

    Why it works:

    With simple but effective use of word repetition, the Houston Food Bank clarifies its work and impact. It delivers on two distinct levels-the literal act of putting food on people's shelves and the emotional payoff to donors and volunteers. An excellent example of a mission-driven tagline.

    Mission Statement:
    A mission statement is not identified as such, but there is a bullet list of facts that serves that function. The fine tagline would benefit from a strong mission statement.

  • "Send a Net. Save a Life." - Nothing But Nets

    Why it works:

    Short, punchy and laser-sharp, the Nothing But Nets tagline connects the action with the outcome. It's inspirational in the simplicity of its message and its reason for existing. The kind of tagline nonprofits should model.

    Mission Statement:
    "Nothing But Nets is a global, grassroots campaign to save lives by preventing malaria, a leading killer of children in Africa." This is the first sentence on the "about the campaign" page. It works and is easy to find. Works well with tagline.

  • "Nothing Stops A Bullet Like A Job" - Homeboy Industries

    Why it works:

    Homeboy Industries' tagline is a mini-masterpiece, telling a memorable story in just six words. It stops you in your tracks, makes you want to learn more and sticks with you afterwards. That's the kind of potent nonprofit messaging every organization desires.

    Mission Statement:
    "Jobs not Jails: Homeboy Industries assists at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education." "Mission Statement" is right on the homepage, above the fold, and is a great echo of the tagline.

  • "Telling stories that make a difference" - Barefoot Workshops

    Why it works:

    If your organization's name is vague, it's critical that your tagline be distinct. Barefoot Workshops' tagline sums up the transformative power of stories to create change in people and their communities, so clarifying the organization's focus. Saved by the tagline!

    Mission Statement:
    "Our goal is to create responsible filmmakers who care about the world around them and who make it a point to give back to their communities." This sentence is in the description found on the "about us" page. It works well and ties in nicely with the tagline.

  • "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors." - The people of The United Methodist Church

    Why it works:

    The work of religious organizations often operates on several planes at once - a challenge for any organization and its messaging. Here, The United Methodist Church delivers a tagline trinity that supports its applied faith mission and is warm, enthusiastic and embracing.

    Mission Statement:
    This is a multifaceted organization, and I couldn't find a particular mission statement. There is a lot of copy, however, that implicitly expresses the mission.

  • "A head for business. A heart for the world." - SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise (now Enactus)

    Why it works::

    If an organization's identity contains within in it a distinct contrast between its key characteristics, that's often good tagline material. Here, SIFE surprises with its crystal-clear tagline that conveys not only what's unique about it but also capitalizes on the contrast between profit and compassion.

    Mission Statement:
    "To bring together the top leaders of today and tomorrow to create a better, more sustainable world through the positive power of business." This mission statement is right on the homepage, above the fold...very clear, visible and plays off the tagline beautifully.

Take Aways

The websites that work best are those that have clearly stated missions right on the home page, and where that mission relates well to the tagline. Noteworthy in this respect are SIFE and Homeboy Industries.These mission statements work well because they are visible, well written, to the point, and play well with the tagline.

I like being able to find a mission statement easily and immediately. Having the mission on the about page works fine, especially when it is clearly identified. The EarthJustice mission, for example, is on the about page. It is quite effective and has a photo that reinforces the statement.

Great mission statements are relatively short, express an action, aspiration, or goal in language that anyone can understand, and are in the active voice. For instance, "Homeboy Industries assists...," "TXNP strengthens Texas communities...," and "The Museum collects, preserves, and interprets fine art..." are stronger because they express actions, using the active voice.

The best taglines extract the essence of an organization's mission statement and turn it into a jolt of inspiration.

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