I had a powerful conversation recently with someone, exploring the nature of having an organizational mission. In my view, this is the absolute foundation for everything you do. So I’m going to explore this in the coming weeks.

I admit I’m a bit hesitant to start with your customers, but that’s where everything begins. The fact is that you need to supply value to customers, otherwise your business is not sustainable.

If you’re a non-profit, I understand that you might not want to call them “customers.” That’s fine. Call them beneficiaries, sponsors and donors. The fact is that you must deliver continuing value over the long term, or you’re going to fold.

So why am I reluctant to start with customers?

It’s because your Mission can get all confused with your products, services, and value proposition. And your foundation needs to be much deeper than what you put in your marketing copy.

The Customer dimension of mission is built on delivering something which is useful, powerful, and compelling. So much so that people are willing to pay you money to do it.

Value is defined by the customer.

You’ll have to understand the customer’s world and motivation to a large degree. You’re not addressing problems you hope they have or you imagine they might have. Sure, you might be ahead of the competition, delivering something truly creative. But if the customer doesn’t currently believe they have the problem you solve, then you’re going to have to convince them that they do.

That’s a hundred times harder.

So let’s build your organization’s value on delivering real solutions to actual problems, in a way which makes peoples’ lives better in a cost effective way.

That’s a foundation which will last.