Vision, mission and purpose statements – what is the difference?

Mission and purposeAlthough the terms ‘vision’, ‘mission’ and ‘purpose’ are commonly found in strategic plans, there is sometimes confusion over what they mean.

The vision statement describes what the organisation will look like in the future. It serves as a guiding beacon that depicts the kind of future to which the organisation aspires. It also provides direction to everyone in the organisation as they focus their efforts on achieving the vision. The BBC’s vision statement is a good example: ‘to be the most creative organisation in the world’. 1

A mission statement, on the other hand, describes what an organisation does and for whom. In addition, it can also state the benefit or benefits provided by the organisation. In the case of the BBC, it is ‘to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain’.2

Some strategic plans contain a purpose statement instead of a mission statement. Other plans may contain both a mission statement and a purpose statement. So what is the difference between the two? A purpose statement provides the reason or reasons you exist. It is about why you exist, whereas the mission is about what you do and for whom. The BBC, for example, has six public purposes, which are set out by Royal Charter and Agreement. They are: ‘sustaining citizenship and civil society; promoting education and learning; stimulating creativity and cultural excellence; representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities; bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK; and delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services’.3

This raises the question of whether you need separate mission and purpose statements. The answer will depend on the organisation. The BBC, as a public institution, sees the need for both. Some organisations find that a mission statement alone suits their needs, whereas others prefer to use a purpose statement. If you want the best of both worlds, you could craft a statement that includes both the purpose and the mission of the organisation. For example, the Canadian Red Cross exists ‘to improve the lives of vulnerable people by mobilizing the power of humanity in Canada and around the world’.4 This statement explains why the organisation exists, what it does, for whom, and the benefits. The Canadian Red Cross chooses to call this statement their ‘mission’, but it could equally have been called their ‘purpose’.

Much of the confusion about terms such as vision, mission and purpose can be avoided if they are defined in your strategic plan. Indeed, the same advice applies to other strategic planning terms you might use and it is worth including a glossary in your plan, so the reader is in no doubt what each term means.

Notes

1 BBC, 2015, ‘Inside the BBC: Mission and values’, accessed 2 September 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/corporate2/insidethebbc/whoweare/mission_and_values.

2 ibid.

3 BBC, 2015, ‘Inside the BBC: Public purposes’, accessed 2 September 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/whoweare/publicpurposes/.

4 Canadian Red Cross, 2015, ‘About the Canadian Red Cross’, accessed 2 September 2015,

http://www.redcross.ca/about-us/about-the-canadian-red-cross.

13 COMMENTS
  1. Peter okoko / 13 Apr 2017

    Thanks for the explanation, appreciate.

  2. Johan Venter / 05 Apr 2018

    The simplest and most lucid explanation I have come accross.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Eli / 05 Apr 2018

    Would it be better for an organization to have one concise statement that utilizes all three? People within the org could see it and know that it is that one statement that they should aspire to fulfill with their role.

    • Effective Governance / 26 Apr 2018

      Hi Eli,

      A mission or purpose statement defines what the organisation does (i.e. its business), its objectives and its approach to achieving those objectives. On the other hand, a vision statement describes the desired future position of the organisation. However, elements of mission and vision statements are sometimes combined with a values statement to provide a statement of the organisation’s purposes, goals and values. It is up to each organisation to decide what best suits their strategy and best communicates the organisation’s mission/purpose, vision and values to its key stakeholders.

  4. olawale / 19 Apr 2018

    Broken down to simplest way to understand,nice write up

  5. Stephania / 05 Jul 2018

    Right on. That is exactly it and perfectly articulated. Thank you! Nice to know that other people share my view.

  6. Best mukumwa / 11 Jul 2018

    nice thanks for explanation

  7. Randolf Stephens / 25 Oct 2018

    Firstly, great explanation of the two statements and the differences between them!

    My question relates to the application of these statements. Should individual teams within an organisation have either a vision or mission OR should that exist higher up at the organisational level? What are the benefits or possible issues of having them team based??

  8. Collins Tembo / 07 Feb 2019

    Very educative

  9. Idem Idem / 17 Feb 2019

    Very clear, thank you

  10. cookies / 07 Mar 2019

    thank you for writing it so it makes sense it helped me a lot and it makes so much sense thank you very much for helping me

  11. cookies / 07 Mar 2019

    thank you again for helping me

  12. Greatful / 07 Jun 2019

    This was the simplest and best disription I have come across thus far! Thank you so much for sharing and making the differences so clear. God bless you!

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