Defining a Community Mission, Vision, Values & Voice

Defining a Community Mission, Vision, Values & Voice

Every single community needs a mission, vision, values, and voice. Whether you choose to define these explicitly or allow them to take shape implicitly, they are the driving forces behind all community interaction.

In my practice, I refer to these as Guiding Principles. That's because they are the principles that, if defined, will guide you and your members every single day to create a community worth nurturing.

If you like handy frameworks, you can call the Guiding Principles MV-cubed. I think that's pretty cheesy, but then I'm also a fan of cheese. I don't care if it's real or metaphorical.

The Importance of Explicitly Defined Guiding Principles

While teaching this framework at a workshop a few weeks ago, someone asked me: Why do people need a shared mission and vision to gather? And why are they magnetized towards leaders who have these guiding principles locked down?

It's because we all need a compass. Our members need a compass. Your guiding principles are that compass. 


Each of us is searching for safety, belonging, social acceptance, and love. And we seek to be loved in a way that gives our lives purpose. As a community leader, when you are crystal clear what your community is and is not for, what you will and will not tolerate, you are giving your members a compass. You are giving them space to carve out more meaning in their lives.

From a business perspective, you are also making it clear what type of contributions are meaningful and which are not. That means that your community members have a clear map to follow to guide their everyday community participation. Members know what to expect, they know what you need from them, and they can identify where they can add the most value inside the community.

First, Define Vision

What will the world look like if your community has achieved its mission? That is what a vision statement must answer. 

Writing this can be a massive undertaking, but it starts with a simple hypothesis. For instance, if I am building a community of volunteers who gather around the world for retreats, I might imagine that if our community is successful, the world will be a kinder and more supportive place. From there, I have to go about validating this hypothesis to see if it resonates with members. 

If you can, this is a great time to gather up a group of about ten members and do research interviews. Listen out for themes. If you can't do that, at least engage in some secondary research: search through surveys, feedback forms, engagement on past emails. Look for patterns in word usage through a Word Cloud Generator, see what calls to action work, find common identities among members. 

Here, a whiteboard and a few team members are your friends. See if you can split up the research into pieces and come together to combine your learnings and answer the question: Why will/does our community exist? What future are we creating together? What is the community's primary purpose?

I believe your mission may be more urgent to create than your vision, but you must have a vision in place to drill down into the tactical work of getting there. Your vision statement is your first major milestone. 

Next, Write Your Mission Statement

Your community's mission is its reason for being, from both the business perspective and the member perspective. "Why did I just join this community?" your members may ask themselves, after hitting the "Join Group" button on your Facebook Group. If they're going to engage in the community long-term, they're going to need to know the "big picture" reason for why. 

I like to think of Mission Statements that I write as being measurable. I think of them as SMART goals: we as a community can look back a year from today and assess how well we did or did not reach our mission. 

For instance, The Culture Collective's mission statement is: With a current network of over 1,000 culture champions at over 800 organizations, our mission is to empower our members to transform every one of those cultures, one by one.

What you want to do here is break the vision into tactical pieces. What work needs to be done to create the world you want to create? 

Having trouble getting this down to one sentence? If you have a team, try whiteboarding all the tactical work that your members could do to create your vision for a better world. Hone this down to one clear sentence that is measurable.

Try it for three months. After three months, check back in. Have you meaningfully made strides toward achieving this mission? Or is it not making sense with the activity that is happening in the community? If that is the case, it is time either to revisit the community's mission or to refine how you lead your members. 

Now, Create Your Values

You may already have brand values that you use as a company. This a great time to visit those and see if they apply to your community. They may need some tweaking, but they should never be in direct opposition to your community's values.

If I'm working from scratch, I love looking at a word list and honing from there. For instance, you can narrow down this list of 400 possible brand values, cut each word out of a sheet of paper, and gather together with coworkers to workshop which brand values are primary for your community. 

Start with 3-5 values for your community. Explain them in 1 sentence. 

Write Out a Voice Guide

Defining your voice is the really fun part. Now that you have a clear vision, mission, and values, sit down and think of a person (a real human being!) who exemplifies those values and would work alongside you to accomplish your mission. My brain works best when I picture someone I know who exudes these traits. 

Take, for instance, Carrie Brownstein, who I used to map out my dog apparel brand's voice (this is a brand voice, not a community voice, but the principal is the same): 

A visual Voice Guide made in XMind, a mind mapping tool

A visual Voice Guide made in XMind, a mind mapping tool

The CMX Media voice "This and not that" brand guide

The CMX Media voice "This and not that" brand guide

From there, you can synthesize these attributes down into a list of "this but not that" characteristics. We created a list like this at CMX to guide all our work (see right). 

Now, what you do with this information is critical. That's because when you're doing anything for your community, from content planning to writing a weekly welcome post, you need to enter this brand voice and amplify it. It should guide how you moderate too.

Creating a living document to define your voice is key because it means that no matter who picks up the community work (say you're on vacation or hire a new employee), anyone can assume this "character" and deliver a consistent experience to your members.  

Okay, Now Change Them 

Now that you have Guiding Principles, get ready to change them.

You have to start somewhere, but you will learn and change as you go. No matter how much planning you do, you'll notice that little language tweaks and ways of communicating resonate (and don't resonate at all!) with your members. Be flexible in your approach, and keep your Guiding Principles updated! 

Today could be the day you lay the foundation your community has been missing. Create your Guiding Principles, and every other piece of work you do after will flow smoothly and feel more meaningful.

Now go make community magic happen! 

Need help refining your community's mission, vision, values, and voice? Gather can help with that. 

Contact Gather for a free consultation. 

Want a high-level overview of how Mission, Vision, and Values fit into a Community Strategy? Much of this is covered in CMX's Fundamentals of Community Strategy course, which I co-created with David Spinks in 2016. 

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