Guidelines: The Mission of Your Intentional Community

During this process, let your core values and vision statement be a continual guide. As described in the template for these documents, the core values tell why, the vision statement tells what you want to bring about in the future, and the mission statement should tell who, how, and where. In an analogy to architecture, an initial sketch depicts the view as it would be to the human eye. That is like the vision. The mission is like the “plan drawing” or blueprint, which is based on exact measurements and location details. When writing the mission of your intentional community, put in details such as key numbers. Describe what you’re actually going to be doing. While in the visioning process it may help to retreat to a location with few distractions, for mission writing it may help to be able to look up details that might make a difference in your decisions.

The following steps are suggestions for how you might discuss your mission. It would be helpful to get a friend to facilitate the meeting, so that the group coordinator can fully participate in the discussion. The steps are simple, so it wouldn’t take a formally trained group facilitator to guide a small group in these steps. These steps are similar to the steps for creating the vision statement. It’s a group process that could be completed over several meetings.

Prepare for meetings.

A helpful first step is to make sure the values, vision statement, and compatibility-determining worksheet are accessible for all to refer to as you work on the mission statement. Sorting out the profile question topics might look like this:

  • Vision statement: larger categories for IC types (what), intentional community types (what), service-based IC (what), type of service (what)
  • Mission statement: population to serve (who), proportion of vulnerable residents (who), residential proximity (how), ownership types (how), population density (where)

Review group’s prior work about preferences.

Possibly in advance of the mission-drafting meeting, make sure these feel inspiring and relevant to your founder’s team. Make a list of the concerns if there are still some who are on the fence about continuing as part of the founder’s group. It’s possible that these concerns could be resolved during the mission-writing. There may be some who, how, and where elements that can be adapted to make a less-than-ideal vision into an attractive option.

Decide on what order to discuss choices.

Combine discussion topics where it makes sense. For example, it probably makes sense to combine the following:

  • (if service-based) what vulnerable population to serve, how many of them, what proportion of residents are needed aside from vulnerable population (you might have already decided or started discussing this while creating the vision statement)
  • residential proximity (you might keep a more than one option open, so that you can consider more of what is on the market at the time you are ready to rent or purchase)
  • ownership types (you might choose to manage this in stages, first renting a small space while you learn and explore grant funding, then purchasing when possible and when the just-right property is available)
  • population density (you might keep several options open, so that you can consider more of what is on the market at the time you are ready to rent or purchase)

Choices most important to your group on the whole should be discussed first, because you don’t want to string along members who are not willing to continue if they don’t agree with their most important choice.

There isn’t a completely fair or easy way to go about this. The compatibility-determining worksheet tries to bring some fairness with the concept of giving each member a certain number of votes that they can spread out or cluster according to what they value most. You could use this strategy to determine which of the following choices the group members care about most: population to serve (if service-based), proportion of vulnerable residents (even if not service-based, you may want to reserve an opportunity to accommodate friends and family members in a time of need), residential proximity, ownership types, population density. You might write these choices, then let members put their circled initials next to the items of most importance to them. You might need to keep each other honest about this. A member shouldn’t put all their votes on one topic, then raise a paramount objection about other’s consensus related to a different topic. You might agree that one can’t raise a paramount objection if they don’t have at least one vote assigned to a choice.

Discuss choices in break-out groups.

Repeat this discussion step for each choice. For the choice under discussion, write the options related to that choice in large text on a few papers and place them in separate locations in the meeting space. Allow members to break into small groups based on which they would like to discuss. If anyone is alone with their option, they can bring their option to whatever other group they feel is most related or next most of interest to them. Ask the small groups to come to an agreement or compromise if possible. A facilitator could check in with the groups to determine when this is mostly finished, or you could set a time limit, depending on whether breakout groups are small or large. It could help to ask breakout groups to start the discussion by giving everyone a chance to state what they decided. Ask each group to pick a spokesperson to summarize their discussion for the group. To close out this circle, ask the spokesperson to state their summary, in a set time, such as 45 seconds (research shows this is about the average time people will stay focused on one topic without their minds wandering).

Discuss details if you plan a service-based IC.

For your convenience, here are some of the profile questions and the options offered. Service-based ICs not only offer valuable social benefit, they may qualify for grant funding. It’s worth considering whether even a small portion of your membership could be reserved for populations that are substantially disadvantaged. Some of them may be friends or relatives of members, who may be motivated to take on much of the extra work.

Population to Serve

You might serve one of the following vulnerable populations, or serve members who have two or three of these attributes combined:

  • Animal rescue
  • Physical disability
  • Learning disability
  • Low income families with children
  • Low income 2SLGBTQIA+
  • Low income ethnic minority
  • Refugee resettlement
  • Low income elderly
  • Low income with high medical risk
  • Chronically homeless
  • Mild to moderate mental illness
  • Mental illness involving delusion or dementia
  • Addiction recovery
  • Escaped from sex trafficking
  • Runaway or homeless minors
  • Aged out foster teens
  • In-system foster kids
  • Gang-involved youth
  • Ex convicts

Number of vulnerable residents

You might choose an IC comprised completely of a vulnerable population or families with a member in that population, which could include yourself. Alternatively, your service plans may require support from professionals that are less represented in the population you serve, who could live and work within the IC or participate as non-residential employees.

Vulnerable population as a proportion of residents:

  • A minority
  • About half
  • A majority
  • All

Allow a pause.

At this point, it’s important not to rush to decide on the best option. If your meeting time is limited, you might plan to hold the remainder of the discussion online and in a final meeting. You might introduce the next step to give some ideas for what members could do in preparation. Alternatively, you could move on to the next steps, but don’t consider them the final decisions.

Debate the merits and explore options as a group.

Debate the merits and explore options. It may help to invite group members to be an advocate for their favored options if they feel strongly about it. Others can contact that advocate if they want to discuss that option between meetings. Any member can research options and make a case for their preferences in the next meeting. Members can also propose options not on the list.

Invite everyone to keep notes as you proceed, because these could be used later as part of the mission statement.

Consider questions in group discussion.

  • What are the best examples of our preferred ownership type being successful for ICs?
  • Are there examples of this ownership type being successful in our chosen area?
  • Which of our group’s preferred ownership types could be combined? (e.g., rent-to-own [lease with option to purchase], group owns shares of corporation and all of us, as well as others, rent from the corporation)
  • How could this IC type make use of the group’s financial or property assets?  

This next set of questions is for a service-oriented IC. If you are not considering a service-oriented IC, skip this, but you might keep it in mind as an option for a later stage of development. Adding a service-oriented mission even as a small part of your overall mission can bring many opportunities for collaboration, promotion, and funding.

  • What are the trade-offs between meeting the needs of the vulnerable population we wish to serve and the group member’s needs?
  • If there are several vulnerable populations we would like to serve, which are most in need? (This will take some research.)
  • If there are several vulnerable populations we would like to serve, which would we be most capable to serve?
  • For the vulnerable population we wish to serve, which “residential proximity” option would make the most sense? (e.g., roommates, house mates, separate units with common areas and shared resources), shared land with some shared buildings, neighborhood mutual aid project or “cooperative housing cluster” with shared resources)
  • Would non-vulnerable residents need to have a less privileged type of “residential proximity” living situation so that we could afford to offer the service?
  • How could this IC type make use of the larger network of communities around it?
  • How could this IC type make use of the group’s knowledge and experience?  
  • How could this IC type benefit from the resources of communities around it?
  • Is this IC type needed in our chosen area more than other types? If so, why?

Compromise and negotiate.

It’s likely you will still need to use your agreed-on governance and decision-making procedures to resolve differences. The elements of the mission seem easier to adapt or pivot, while keeping the same values and vision. For example with an ecovillage, your purpose doesn’t necessarily change whether you’re (a) non-profit or a co-owned corporation, or (b) whether you’re rural or using urban rooftops for gardening. If you’re a business or service-oriented non-profit, you could expand or shift your client base probably without too much disruption.  

Some members may not love all of the choices the group has made, but they may still want to continue, while investigating other groups. It may be that only when the rest of the group is deciding on a particular property that they will decide to commit or separate from the group. You might lose out on a potentially valuable contributor if you insist that everyone commit early on.

Decide on one population or a combination.

After discussing the questions above, your group might at this point use your chosen decision-making process to focus on one or two option combinations. Depending on how consensus-based your decision-making process is, it will be important to understand if some members are dissenting to the decision still. Without pressuring them, it’s important to understand whether or not they are willing to move forward with group toward the current combination of choices. If not, you might invite them to continue to attend meetings, in case they still would like to contribute or might come to see benefits in the current choices. You might explore how the choices could be adapted to meet some of the core values of the dissenting member(s).

Say respectful goodbyes.

If the majority are excited about one combination of choices and others are clearly not, you might hold a goodbye ceremony for those who are sure they don’t want to move forward with the plan, but only if the dissenting member(s) are interested in participating in the goodbye. As much as possible, keep the door open for future collaborations, unless the dissenting members feel too opposed to the chosen direction. Keep in mind the potential to re-involve the leaving members if the group later changes direction.

Write some first drafts.

This can be homework or worked on during a meeting. Timing it next to a break could work well, to allow for variation in the time that different members will want to spend in this exercise.

  • Based on the vision statement, and notes from the group answers from the questions listed above, have each member write a draft of a mission statement.
  • Invite those who prefer to contribute but not write, to form one or more groups. In a meeting setting, point to a location for those to meet. 

State the mission in the present tense.

Here’s a template to use for the mission statement:

We are a [rural, urban, peri-urban…] [ownership structure] [ecovillage, vanlife travelers coalition…] joined for the purpose of [major focus of what you do for livelihood or service, type of resource sharing [be specific if you wish, or purpose bigger than yourself, such as your shared values]. We provide [name the service or a product from your business venture, ceremony or practice of a spiritual or religious tradition, and/or a shared leisure pursuit] to the [target market].

If you don’t all have a strong shared leisure pursuit, then leave that out. Here are a couple of examples:

  • We are a peri-urban land-sharing ecovillage providing families with a school that matches our values of hands-on student-directed learning. We operate a CSA to serve a neighboring town, host an annual seed share event, and offer youth summer camps that include outdoor recreation at a nearby lake.
  • We are a nomadic cooperative business supported by a vanlife travelers coalition, joined for the purpose of creating a livelihood based on teaching paragliding and wind surfing. We also offer ecstatic dance workshops in a variety of locations.

Evaluate and merge the drafts.

As a group, combine bits of each contribution to come up with a statement all prefer or can live with. Characteristics to check for include the following:

  • It needs to be practical and express what activities are done on a daily basis.
  • Aim for a word count that takes less than two minutes to share, about 300.
  • Some recommend not to finalize the wording as a group, but leave that to the best writer in the group.
  • You can decide to refine it later. You can write it into the legal founding documents eventually.

Iterate when needed.

You may come back to this document as your group proceeds through creating the other templates of the group. It shouldn’t be seen as a failure to do a re-write. It is definitely better to rework the community in idea phase rather than rework it after people have moved to live with or near each other, substantially committing to a plan in a way that might have required disruption and sacrifice.

Share your statement online.

Link your googledoc (or other location for document sharing) to your ICmatch group description on the Team Up page. This way potential members get a better sense of what your group is becoming. Also, your work could inspire others going thru their own mission-writing process.