Fairmount InSights

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway once penned a 6-word short story and judged it to be his best work. Although this post in the Stanford Social Innovation Review isn’t actually channeling the literary giant and Nobel Prize winner, they share a similar spirit of brevity and clarity.

It recommends nonprofits limit themselves to an 8-word mission statement that avoids jargon and abstract ideas.

My example: Eliminate adult illiteracy in Philadelphia.

It tells people exactly what the organization is doing, who it’s serving, and what it’s trying to accomplish.

Note that it doesn’t address the “how” of the organization’s work. It isn’t supposed to, argues the author, and in fact fosters more critical confrontation and evaluation of an organization’s work relative to its mission. And when a funder or other constituent asks, the short mission statement lends itself to a much more powerful (and memorable) elevator speech.

Maybe eight isn’t enough for your organization, but there may be value in thinking about how much just eight words can actually communicate. Similar to what was said of Hemingway’s work: tell nothing but the truth in a way that allows for telling more than the truth.