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While private foundations are not required to create and operate according to a specific mission, they are expected by the IRS to have a statement explaining their charitable intent. To fulfill this mandate, most foundations—unless they have a specific focus determined at their outset—provide broad statutory language such as “for religious, scientific, literary, educational or other charitable purposes.” Beyond this, foundations vary in how they proceed. Some eventually articulate a more specific intent, while others never do.

We asked the experts on our Philanthropy Advisory Services team to share their view on this topic. Their answer? The practice of adopting a formal mission is optional. Some foundations function effectively without one, such as those that serve diverse program areas for which an umbrella statement to unify them may not be possible. Others don’t adopt a mission until they’re well established and have taken time, either months or years, to determine their charitable priorities.

Still, for many private foundations, the declaration of a mission, a statement that specifically defines their charitable activities and intent, can prove immensely beneficial – especially when the mission evolves over time as foundations grow and gain philanthropic experience.

3 Benefits of Crafting a Mission Statement

A mission statement can help a foundation:

  1. Focus its efforts and planning. As philanthropic causes are nearly endless, a mission can help foundations prioritize their initiatives and allocate resources efficiently.
  2. Maximize its philanthropic impact. A mission can enable a foundation to track its impact over multiple cycles of grantmaking, which creates opportunities for learning and improvement.
  3. Attract support and participation. With a mission statement that clearly defines its priorities, a foundation can more effectively attract and engage donors, grantees, volunteers and other outside stakeholders.

7 Tips for Mission Development
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