By Derek Alley CFRE, Co-Founder and President Arthur Alley

The nonprofit – or social purpose – organization must look critically at itself to value its worth, to examine its mission, to determine whether this statement of mission is being interpreted properly through measured objectives and meaningful programs and to evaluate overall impact on the market area.

Henry Rosso, CFRE
Director Emeritus, The Fund Raising School (now the Lilly School of Philanthropy)


When any not-for-profit organization’s activities, strategies, and goals are focused on addressing the need described in its mission statement, mission relevance exists. Why does this matter?  Because mission relevance ensures that not-for-profit organizations remain true to their foundational purpose, effectively addressing the needs the were created to serve. Maintaining mission relevance requires regular evaluation of the organization’s programs and services to confirm they are meeting the needs stated in the mission statement and achieving intended outcomes.  Maintaining mission relevance is a positive support for development/fundraising activities.

Make Data-Driven Decisions

Data-driven decisions are based on the analysis and interpretation of data.  This approach enables nonprofits to make strategic choices that are more likely to lead to successful outcomes. By using data to guide decisions, organizations can better allocate resources, identify and respond to emerging trends, and measure the impact of their programs.

Gather Quantitative AND Qualitative Data

Quantitative data refers to information that can be measured and expressed numerically. This type of data is useful for identifying patterns, making comparisons, and performing statistical analyses. Gathering this data will likely require collaboration with program experts and/or research departments.  So, make this an inclusive process to determine types of internal and external data to gather and the most appropriate departments/employees to gather it.

Internal sources

  • Program measures and outcomes
  • Program outputs, e.g. number of participants, audience numbers, meals served, etc. Use any indicators that illustrate the mission in action
  • Program and organization financial snapshots that show how funds are deployed for the mission

External sources

  • Broadly speaking, the US Census Bureau can be a treasure trove
  • Sources specific to your organization’s work. Seek out publicly available information.  This is where program directors and research departments can be tremendously helpful.  And if you are stumped on what types of data to gather, find information to answer this question:  What data exists to illustrate the need for my organization’s mission?

Qualitative data, on the other hand, is descriptive and captures information that is not easily measured but provides deeper insights into experiences, opinions, and motivations. Gathering this data presents an opportunity to hear many voices representing multiple constituencies important to the development process:  program experts, past/current donors, program participants and alumni, and others.  Be creative and work to include as many constituency groups as possible.  And once the groups are identified, use creativity again to find the most efficient and effective way to hear their voices.  Consider gathering:

  • Testimonials from current program participants and program alumni
  • Donor surveys and individual meetings with a representative selection of current and past donors
  • Interviews with foundations and corporate funders whose interest areas include your organization. The requests made to these funders can highlight useful trends.
  • Interviews with similar service providers (don’t be afraid to chat with your biggest competitor)
  • Case studies illustrating impact

Quantitative data helps in understanding the scope and scale of efforts, while qualitative data provides context and depth to the numbers.

Identify Trends and Discuss Them

Once data is gathered, what trends do the data highlight?  And how do the identified trends affect and inform your organization’s mission?

A trend discussion often piques the interest of board members and donors.  Afterall, the trends affirm why these stakeholders share time, talent, and treasure with your organization.  Don’t miss an opportunity to cultivate and strengthen relationships by inviting these stakeholders to be part of the conversation.

The trends conversation has other benefits.  It can:

  • inform strategic plan progress – or the need to shift direction
  • provide talking points for volunteer and paid organizational leaders
  • be used across fundraising platforms for cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship
  • inform marketing and communications plans and resulting collateral
  • be used to create a sense of fundraising urgency
  • position your organization as a thought leader and/or subject matter expert

A relevant mission is the foundation for development and fundraising.  In fact, this relevance gives us the right as development professionals to do our job.  By integrating these practices, not-for-profit organizations can ensure they remain mission-relevant, make informed decisions, and sustain their operations through effective fundraising and engaged leadership.

Are you or your organization doing all you can to ensure mission relevance? If you’d like to learn more, check out Arthur Alley’s guide on How to Remain Relevant in an Ever-Changing Environment.  If you’d like to go even deeper, reach out to us to discuss our Mission Planning Study services and educational workshops.