Mission statements are easy to ignore. In our day to day lives with emails pouring in, phones ringing, and having to deal with our supervisors, subordinates, and patrons, it is hard to take the time to sit back and reflect on why we are here, and why our museum matters.
Yet a mission statement can be an unending source of inspiration for both employees and patrons. In a few words it can explain what we do, who we do it for, and why we do it. Rather than being dragged out every five years for a strategic planning process, a good mission statement can guide us through our day-to-day work.
By far, my favorite mission statement I encountered in my research for this post was that of the Monterey Bay Aquarium: “The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans”. To me, it is just about perfect. I know almost nothing about the Monterey Bay Aquarium, other than that it is a large and well-regarded aquarium in California. Yet from that extraordinarily brief statement I can envision a sprawling, diverse, multifaceted institution making a difference in the world through its educational mission.
There is much that is implicit in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s short mission statement. Who does the Aquarium serve? The mission statement doesn’t say specifically. However, the oceans are a worldwide feature that affects every person on the planet. Therefore, if the mission is to inspire their conservation, then the community served is the general public. How does the Aquarium do this? Again, it doesn’t say. Yet if the mission is to “inspire,” then one can easily imagine exhibits, public programs, and special events that fulfill that function.
There is no set formula for mission statements. The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium fits for a large, nationally known institution. A smaller, regional aquarium would want a much more focused and specific mission. However, if I were creating a strategic plan for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I would feel confident plotting out programs, exhibitions, and budgets. If I were a regular employee, I would feel good and motivated about what I was doing at my job. And if I were part of the general public (as I am now) I would want to visit this institution, and explore its diverse offerings. That is the power of a strong mission statement.