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How to Write Great Taglines and Mission Statements

Do They Reinforce One Another?


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J.P. Nodier/Photodisc/Getty Images

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.

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