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Making It Your Mission

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"A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history."

Mahatma Gandhi

Whether you are an individual, family, foundation, or corporation, your philanthropic impact is most effective and sustainable when it is connected to what matters most to you. Taking the time to contemplate your philanthropic vision and to articulate your mission can go a long way towards ensuring success. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines mission as “a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.” Yet, when it comes to philanthropy, expressed charitable intent can easily get diverted in the shuffle of rules, tax considerations, reporting, and evaluation. Values, ambitions, or a sense of purpose are at the heart of establishing what no donor or grantmaker should be without: a clear and concise mission statement. 

According to the 2016 U.S. Trust® Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, more than 67% of wealthy donors report that their greatest challenges when it comes to charitable giving are identifying the causes they care about and deciding where to donate. These challenges are not unique to high net worth donors. Indeed, all donors can benefit from engaging in thoughtful processes to define their missions. For all donors, a mission statement should be based on the donor’s values and broadly captures where philanthropic efforts and resources should be focused.


More than 67% of wealthy donors report that their greatest challenges when it comes to charitable giving are identifying the causes they care about and deciding where to donate.

Mission Defines What is Important 

Why are you engaged in philanthropy? What values drive and inform your giving? What issues are important to you? How do you prioritize those issues? Why do you choose to address societal issues in limited or expanded geographical areas?

The answers to these questions are often grounded in your history or background as an individual, family, foundation, or corporation and often address specific issues, values, and beliefs as well as geographic, cultural, or religious concerns. You may choose to give to the communities in which you live and work or to another community where needs exist. And you may choose to give to a cause that has generational resonance to you or to identify new areas of interest.

You may also consider aligning with others who are in sync with your core life philosophy. Gillian Howell, Managing Director, Philanthropic Solutions notes, “When philanthropists can define and describe with precision the intention of their giving, the mission statement becomes a crucial guidance tool that will help build their desired results.”

The Philanthropic Solutions team at U.S. Trust is committed to making your philanthropic endeavors more effective, efficient, and personally fulfilling. Drawing on our deep resources and experience in philanthropy, we can work with you to design, implement, and evaluate your philanthropic plan to help fulfill your goals. 

Mission Statement Benefits 

A mission statement can help guide a donor’s giving and may better enable them to fulfill their philanthropic goals and aspirations. It offers these additional benefits:

  • Enables the donor to be proactive and more effective; therefore, it increases the likelihood of achieving goals and personal fulfillment 

  • Enhances the donor’s sense of connection to the work that they are funding 

  • Helps the donor clearly communicate to potential grantees how closely they are aligned in purpose 

  • Promotes continuity of purpose over time and helps to protect against mission drift 

  • Can unite family or board members who may be distant geographically or ideologically under one banner 

  • Provides guidance when contradictory feelings, opinions, or desires surface as board members and other influencers change over time

Creating A Mission Statement? Seven Questions to Ask

  1. What are your values as an individual, family, foundation, or corporation?

  2. How would you like to articulate your values through your philanthropy?

  3. What is the difference you would like to make?

  4. How do you see your values and interests relating? (For example, a value of “community” and an interest in “education” might yield a mission of providing local children with access to opportunities for growth and enrichment in and outside of the classroom.)

  5. Are there particular populations of greatest concern to you or your foundation (e.g., women and girls, homeless families, veterans, animals)?

  6. Do you wish to adopt a broad approach that could affect many areas or populations, or a narrow one that focuses on one area of concern?

  7. Do you want to impact a particular geographic area?

How We Can Help 

U.S. Trust has expertise and resources available to assist individuals and foundations with mission statement creation. 

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