Magazine

How (and Why) to Make a Family Mission Statement

By Ashley Bleckner

Maybe you’re familiar with the “company mission statement” — that one big sentence that describes why they do what they do. Ellevest’s mission statement is “to get more money in the hands of women+.” It connects us all around one big, important thing, and it makes decision-making easier: If a brilliant idea doesn’t support our mission, we let it go.

In other words, a mission statement can help give purpose and direction — which are keys to satisfaction with your life. So there’s no reason to confine them to the workplace. Sitting down with your family to create your own mission statement can help you deepen your connection, resolve differences of opinion, and make more meaningful decisions.

You’ll use your family mission statement in all sorts of ways, but it’s especially helpful when it comes to money. That’s because talking about money is never just talking about money, really. It’s also talking about generational differences and gender expectations. It brings up a lot of emotion. It can be seen (especially within families) as a competition. And then there are the money taboos that make us want to avoid talking about it at all — which can definitely cause problems.

What is a family mission statement?

Your mission statement is a short summary of your family’s purpose and the standards you commit to living up to — in all aspects of your life. You’ll use it to guide your decision-making together.

It should express your most deeply held shared values, the ones you expect to hold for a long time — possibly across generations. But as your family grows and evolves, your mission statement naturally will, too. You’ll want to revisit it regularly (maybe once a year) and whenever your family goes through a milestone change, like divorce or loss.

You can make one for yourself, as a couple, as a nuclear family, or as a multi-generational family … it’s your choice. You can do all of the above, if that makes sense for you.

1. Start with yourself.

It's hard to know what you value together without first knowing what you value individually. So first, spend some time thinking about what’s most meaningful to you. (Note: This can be a life-changing exercise.)

A few questions to guide you:

  • What are your three or four core values? We all believe a lot of things. Paring them down can takes work — but it’s necessary to get clear on what really matters. Connection, justice, religion, serenity, service to others, achievement, truth, education? I recently spoke with Emily Scott, a certified transition professional, who recommends that you write down your values in a column. On the left, write down where each value came from (your parents, your life experiences, your education). On the right, write down what you teach your kids (if you have them) and / or share with others in your family about each value. This can help you trace the origin of your values and find more meaning in each one.

  • What would you (or do you) do for free? Time is valuable. Where do you give yours?

  • What needs to be done? What calls you with a sense of urgency? What do you see as a problem to be solved or a duty to be followed?

  • What have you learned from your failures? The deepest meaning often comes through struggle.

2. Make it an occasion

Schedule a time and place to talk. Whether it’s just you and your partner, your household family, or your extended family, try to make it special. If you can, host it somewhere you love (like a vacation spot or favorite restaurant), but virtual works, too. The point is to make it feel significant and to give you a chance to bond.

3. Give everyone a voice.

Values are highly personal, and if you’re going to have an honest conversation, everyone needs to feel listened to and respected. Agree on some ground rules and give everyone space to speak.

A few ideas for making people feel heard:

  • Youngest people talk first, so they don’t get skipped over.

  • To avoid groupthink, send questions out in advance and have people share what they came up with.

  • Ask follow-up questions with understanding in mind rather than disagreement. “That makes no sense. Why do you think that?” becomes “Can you tell me more about your thought process?”

4. Share your family views and goals.

To understand where your values overlap, it can help think about the past and the future. Some questions to ask:

  • What words best describe us?

  • Which past decisions felt great, and which ones felt more painful?

  • Which experiences have been most meaningful?

  • How do we relate to each other, and how do we want to relate to each other?

  • What is our purpose as a family?

  • What do we want our family to accomplish in the next ten years?

Once you have all your values shared, it’s time to pare them down again. As a family, pick your most important values. If you’re having trouble narrowing them down, go back to those past decisions. Which value did each decision reflect? Were you happy with the outcome?

5. Craft your mission statement.

A mission statement won’t help if you don’t use it, so it should be short and memorable, and feel like a compass to help you make decisions. It could be a family motto or a short list of sentences. It can be helpful, if it works for your family, to specifically state your mission around your money or what money means to you.

Some examples of very short family mission statements:

  • “To seek joy and justice.”

  • “We bring people together.”

  • “We’re travelers, not tourists.”

  • “What will you do with your wild and precious life?”

  • “To get more money in the hands of women+.” (We don’t mind at all if you steal this one.)

And some examples of longer statements:

  • “We don’t dwell on differences in our family. We work together to increase the good in the world.”

  • “To be generous but not frivolous with our assets, to make the most of every opportunity we choose to take, and to rise to every challenge.”

  • “Respect is key. That looks like assuming kindness, thinking things through, and keeping our word.”

  • “We’re in this together. We support our family, give back to our community, and are unafraid to ask for help ourselves.”

6. Talk about next steps

Before you go, explore some opportunities to use your new mission statement. Are you setting family goals for the year? Any big decisions coming up? Also: Set a time later in the year to come back to your mission and see if there’s anything you want to adapt.

How to use your mission statement to make money decisions

When thinking about your mission and your money, you probably jump to philanthropy. That’s a big one — in fact, we recently put together a guide to using your shared purpose to make a strategic giving plan. But it’s just the beginning. Your family’s spending and investing dollars are also powerful tools to drive real change.

Spending

Every day, we make dozens of decisions, and a lot of them are about money. Think about where you’re spending your money now. Is it aligned with your mission statement? For example, if your mission includes fighting for equality or supporting your community, now is an excellent time to spend your money with small businesses — maybe businesses run by women+, which were hit hard by the “she-cession” in 2020. That’s one way your money can directly and immediately impact someone’s life.

Don’t forget to look at the companies you do business with, too. We founded Private Wealth Management at Ellevest (after starting out as a digital-only investment advisor) because we kept hearing women tell us things like, “I’m tired of supporting businesses and institutions that haven’t supported me.” (True story.)

Use your mission statement as a guide, and look into whether the companies you’re giving money to match up with your mission.

Investing

Investing with a mission to drive change is often termed “impact investing,” but here’s the truth: Every dollar you invest has an impact — whether positive or negative. And as your net worth as a family grows, your opportunity to make a bigger impact — whether positive or negative — grows as well. So to live by your mission statement, you need to know the impact your family’s investing dollars are making right now — and you need to feel confident that it’s the impact you want to be making.

“Impact investing” is also often defined pretty narrowly as mutual funds and ETFs created to align with a certain set of values. When it comes to gender equality, we didn’t think the criteria went far enough to align with our mission to get more money in the hands of women+, so we’ve worked to create investment opportunities that we believe will truly drive change for women.

In the Ellevest Intentional Impact public equity portfolios,* that means we widened our lens to screen out individual stocks in companies with harmful business practices around things that directly impact women’s lives, like poor workplace diversity, greenhouse gas emissions, toxic waste, and the private prison ecosystem. And where it’s suitable for our clients, we also offer mission-focused alternative investment in private funds whose strategies include affordable housing and loans to women business owners — in other words, we help them make a direct impact with their investments.

Talk to your financial advisor about your family mission statement, and ask about the impact you’re making now and the impact you could be making. And if you’re not happy with your answer, think about moving your money to a company that takes your mission seriously.

Because your family’s mission statement is serious. It reflects your purpose. It’s your North Star, and it guides you to make more intentional decisions. It can be an incredibly meaningful thing for you to do with your family. And it can help you drive change in the world — together.


Sources and Disclosures

© 2020 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

*The Ellevest Intentional Impact Portfolio is a separately managed equity account that is sub-advised by Ethic, Inc., an SEC-registered investment adviser. As sub-adviser, Ethic constructs and manages portfolios of individual stock positions benchmarked to an underlying index and customized to specific values criteria. The sub-adviser seeks to deliver equity market returns that track closely with a designated equity benchmark (domestic and / or international) while outperforming on impact across key sustainability criteria as defined by Ellevest and / or the client. The minimum investment in the Ellevest Intentional Impact Portfolio is $250,000. In addition to Ellevest’s advisory fee, the client will pay 0.30% of assets managed to the Sub-adviser.

All opinions and views expressed by Ellevest are current as of the date of this writing, for informational purposes only, and do not constitute or imply an endorsement of any third party’s products or services.

The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice.

The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific person.

Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. There is no guarantee that any particular asset allocation or mix of funds will meet your investment objectives or provide you with a given level of income.

Investing entails risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no assurance that the investment will provide positive performance over any period of time.

Information was obtained from third-party sources, which we believe to be reliable but not guaranteed for accuracy or completeness.

Ashley Bleckner

Ashley joined Ellevest after 8 years’ experience helping high net worth clients toward their financial goals. Today, she’s a financial advisor on Ellevest’s Private Wealth Management team, working with clients to help them develop personalized long-term investment plans that align with their goals and values.