One of my favorite movies is Disney’s “The Kid”. In the scene where big Russ is trying to explain his job as an image consultant and little Rusty is trying to understand what that means, he looks up and in a childish, drawn out tone says, “But what do I doooo?”
This very phrase and in Rusty’s tone went through my head about 1,000 times as we started exploring re-articulating our mission statement. I was newly hired as the Executive Director of Mika Community Development Corporation but had been a part of the organization for 11 of our 12 years. Our work wasn’t changing but we needed to clarify and focus the most core part of our work, our mission.
For years, Mika’s mission statement read:
Mika exists to identify and equip leaders from low-income neighborhoods to build communities with VISION (Vision, Interdependent Relationships with God and with each other, Servant Leadership, Impact, Organization, and Networks).
This was not a bad mission statement. It served us well and directed our work for over a decade. However, besides myself and the previous Executive Director, no one could remember the thing. You’d ask 10 people what Mika did and you’d get 10 different answers.
I’d like to tell you this process of asking, “But what do we dooooo?” was simple and fast. But as with most things that are good, it took time. A lot of time. Just over a year to be exact. This was not a process to be rushed and clarifying the core problem we were addressing was the ONLY way we were going to know if our solutions were actually solving anything.
This can be scary, because what if the answer is no? What if you get really clear on the problem only to find what you’ve been doing isn’t really solving the core problem?
In my 12 years of working with and for multiple non-profits, I’ve seen that we’re often afraid of asking the hard questions. It could affect our funding. It could mean stopping or changing long term programs. It could mean saying no to funds that don’t align with our mission. It could mean people choosing not to partner with you anymore.
For many of you starting something new, this could also mean that your idea looks different than what you have been thinking about for years. But the freedom of clarity and focus far outweighs the anxieties and frustrations that come from lack of clarity.
Mika’s work draws heavily from Bryant Myers’ book “Walking With the Poor” where he presents the idea of relational poverty and its effect on economic poverty. He suggests that “poverty is a result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of Shalom in all its meanings.”
This work was made more accessible by the popular “When Helping Hurts” and explores the effects of the breakdown in relationship of our four primary relationships – our relationships with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.
We had been using this language to explain the core problem we were addressing and justify how we work, but hadn’t connected that the way we articulated our mission spoke more to strategy than mission fulfillment.
Leadership Development and Community Building (our core strategies) are wonderful things but they are tools to fulfilling a larger mission. We identified early on in the process that our core mission had to be articulated in relationship terms. If you’ve ever wordsmithed something for so long it makes your brain hurt, you’ll understand how we were feeling after months of not landing on something concrete. I could walk you through all the versions and would be happy to if you contact me directly, but where we finally landed was:
Mika exists to build whole relationships in Costa Mesa.
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this statement. There was a lot of time (and tears) that went into the final iteration.
The clarity this statement brought to me and to our team was incredible. It created a clear lens to evaluate every single thing we do. We asked: does this program build wholeness in relationship with God, self, or others? For 80% of what we did the answer was a resounding YES! If the answer was no, another set of questions followed. Not fitting into our core mission didn’t automatically mean we needed to stop doing something, but clarified what questions we should be asking.
Two of the hardest decisions I’ve made as Executive Director were closing a community center and changing a 10 year Christmas tradition that had become an institution in our city. I realized that even the most beautiful community development work can become a part of sustaining a need that has changed or may not even exist anymore. Once we became really clear on the problem we were addressing (broken relationships) we had to make sure our solutions (strategies and programs) were completely in line. To sum this up in one short post is oversimplifying a very difficult and timely process, but as one that’s still in it (and will hopefully always be asking the hard questions) I’m here to tell you it’s worth it.
I participated in FLDWRK’s Idea Weekend from a different perspective than most of the people in the room. I wasn’t starting something brand new but had a new idea for our already existing organization. We had done a lot of the above mentioned work and started asking some specific questions regarding funding and sustainability. It was inspiring to be with 14 other people who were vulnerable enough to ask the hard questions and do the hard work of clarifying their problem in order to know what the best solutions were.
As was the case with many people in the room, what I started thinking was the problem was only scratching the surface and attending the Idea Weekend helped me to clarify.
What seems like a very scary and hard process of questioning is totally worth it in the end when you’re willing to do the work. Well done for diving in.