Many counselor clinicians contact me in a panic over writing a mission statement (which includes a purpose section) as part of applying for federal recognition as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation (tax-exempt). Although this can indeed be scary, it needn’t be overly confusing.
The IRS page at the time of this writing gives the basic parameters for this status. Please note that you do NOT have to meet all of these requirements.
“The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.”
In short, what public good are you going to provide? Let’s face it. If the NFL was able to go so long as a tax-exempt organization (it announced it was voluntarily going to give its status up after an outcry on social media), your therapeutic program has a great chance of qualifying, provided that you do more than simply offer the occasional sliding fee for a client. A solid mission statement and purpose can mean so much in terms of a successful application. Give it some thought, explore examples and write multiple drafts before submitting.
What is your mission?
Think of your mission statement as the rudder of the ship you will be traveling on. It helps maintain control and direction and limit the scope of the trip you are taking. The mission statement is your chance to give a clear definition of what you are seeking to accomplish as a nonprofit.
Although the mission statement can be adjusted as needed, much like the rudder, it is typically adjusted slowly so as not to upend what you have been doing. Maintaining balance is key, especially in a rough sea. For instance, when my charity was founded, our main stated mission was to give equal and open access to behaviorally based therapeutic counseling services regardless of ability to pay. As we progressed and expanded not only our physical size but also our staffing, we incorporated additional services and periodically made adjustments to our mission statement.
It is vital to craft a mission statement that clearly states what you aim to do while also keeping in mind that you need to meet certain criteria to become a 501(c)(3). More information is available at https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/exemption-requirements-section-501-c-3-organizations.
What is your purpose?
Don’t worry if your mission statement fails to capture everything you are going to do as a charity. You will also be required to clearly state the purpose of the corporation (nonprofits are corporations in the eyes of the law and, as such, are owned by no one person or group; in effect, they own themselves).
There is no need to be overly wordy or excessive in this section. Simply state the main goals of your organization. For clinical programs, you might state the type of clinical programming you will offer and identify the population(s) served, the general services that will benefit the community, associated educational opportunities and related programming. It is wise to include a “catch-all” purpose as well (see No. 5 below).
Example of a mission statement and purpose
The mission of Community Counseling Center of Central Connecticut Inc. is to provide a holistic program that addresses the therapeutic, cultural, occupational and cultural needs of those we serve in a nature-based setting.
Purpose of the Corporation
The purposes, for which the Corporation is formed, as set forth in its Certificate of Incorporation, are:
To conduct the following activities, which are exclusively charitable, educational and scientific within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, including:
- To provide the highest quality behaviorally based therapuetic outpatient services to individuals, couples, children and adolescents in the most caring environment possible.
- To provide means for clients to share experiences, support one another, and improve their care.
- To provide outreach services to raise awareness to the needs of the community, the benefits of mental health treatment as well as to aid in the decrease in the stigmatization that those who receive mental health services sometimes endure.
- To provide presentations, workshops, lecture series and trainings in areas that relate to the work, goals and needs of the clients served and professionals who work in the mental health.
- To engage in any other activity which will further the interests of individuals served and or targeted by the corporation, their families, or professionals treating individuals with mental health issues and related disorders or engaging in research about mental health and related disorders.
- To acquire, maintain and preserve open space, woodlands and related properties in order to provide a means for holistic programming and educational activities as well as passive recreation*. (Added 1-1-2015)
* For land use, passive recreation connotes activities that have little to no impact on the land.
The mission statement and purpose of the corporation are among the hardest items to be included in the formation of your bylaws, which are the very heart of any nonprofit. As we’ve just explored, however, it is far less difficult to write these elements than you may have imagined.
This article should not be viewed as all-inclusive or as a substitute for working with trained professionals.
“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional resources related to nonprofit design, documentation and related information can be found at docwarren.org/supervisionservices/resourcesforclinicians.html.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.