Challenges and Tips for Creating Your Organization’s Quest, Part II -- Nonprofits

please giveThere are currently about 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States alone. That’s about one for every 200 Americans. If you’re shocked by that number, consider the kinds of organizations that fall under that category:

  • 501(c)6 nonprofits, what you might call Association-to-Business (A2B) or trade associations
  • 501(c)3 nonprofit, which is the more traditionally imagined nonprofit
  • Universities
  • Churches

Since the first two tend to have less concrete quests, here are a couple of examples of how nonprofits can better define their quest.

Trade association: Imagine that you work for a dairy farmers’ trade association. Your mission statement reads something like “We represent the interests of dairy farmers from around the country and promote the consumption of dairy products.”

If someone asks you what you do at a cocktail party, you might say “I work for a trade association that represents the milk industry.” And you might joke about being a “milk pimp” to your friends.

Chances are, however, that you aren’t just working for a paycheck. So what is it? What’s your quest?

A cynic might say, “To sell more milk.” But that’s still an outcome. Here are a few options that are more in line with a quest:

  • “A majority of Americans aren’t getting enough calcium. We want to fix that.”
  • “We work to make sure that our nation’s dairy farmers can continue to make the best milk in the world.”
  • “We want to make sure that all children can grow strong bones by encouraging parents to give them milk, instead of soda or sports drinks.”

501©3 nonprofit: Many nonprofits have a more quest-oriented mission statement, but there is generally still room to improve. For instance, a homeless shelter might have a mission statement of “Helping the underserved and indigent population of Smith County.” But their quest might be:

  • “Working to make sure that everyone in Smith County has a warm bed and a hot meal on a cold night.”
  • “Preventing anyone in Smith County from losing their life because they couldn’t find a safe place to sleep.”

A word about coalitions and partnerships: Another benefit of identifying your organization’s quest is that you overtly develop common ground with other organizations. Taking the dairy farmers’ association example, there are relatively few organizations that are going to feel strongly about promoting the dairy industry. But a number of different groups—from child welfare organizations to senior health groups—would find the quest to make sure that all Americans get enough calcium appealing and a natural fit with their organization.


As you can see, there are endless options in defining your quest—and that quest will likely change over time and be refined in different ways by different parts of your organization. But again, your quest should be something that is either currently true or that your organization will make true. The most amazing and admirable quest in the world will backfire if you aren’t actually pursuing it.

Missed Part I of the series, which focuses on entrepreneurs? You can find it here.