Many wealthy families and their private foundations benefit immensely by declaring a mission that specifically lays out their charitable activity and its intent. While it’s not required by the IRS, a mission statement can help a foundation prioritize its initiatives and allocate resources efficiently, track its impact and identify areas for improvement over multiple cycles of grant-making. That way, families can attract and engage the best-fit donors, grantees, volunteers and other stakeholders.

Through many decades of work with private foundations, I have learned that the most effective way to craft a charitable mission is through an evolutionary process that defines a foundation’s general direction but allows room for growth.

With your encouragement, your clients can revisit and adapt their mission over time as they gain philanthropic experience and grow their foundation. For example, in the first year a client creates a foundation, they may choose to have a purposely broad mission statement, perhaps one that reads like this: “We are dedicated to improving the health and well-being of our community’s residents in need.” Such a broad approach allows them more time to choose a specific focus later.

Several years on, as they work with partners (for example, social services departments) to understand and address the pressing needs of their communities, the family might discover that their most meaningful impact has been made through certain programs, perhaps those for young children. In that case, the foundation would modify its mission statement this way: “We are dedicated to improving the health and well-being of our community’s young children in need.”

Now let’s assume it’s 10 years later, and the foundation is serving children through a variety of projects. As their knowledge base continues to expand, the family and its foundation will be able to further hone their approach and identify specific areas where they want to effect change. Let’s say they are focusing more on mental health. So the mission statement becomes even more specific: “We are dedicated to improving the mental health and well-being of our community’s young children. We support efforts for early assessment and intervention, therapy and increased public awareness.”

This approach is informed by the foundation’s unique experience and leaves room for additional shifts if it has achieved compelling results from current programs, identified new ways to create impact or both.

Tips For Mission Development
If your clients want to articulate a mission for their family philanthropy, here are seven tips to help them land on something that will inspire others without being permanent or limiting.

1. Take Some Time
There’s no rush. If a foundation is unsure of where to focus its charitable efforts, it can begin by supporting a wide variety of causes to find out what really motivates and excites its leadership.

2. Involve The Next Generation
If a foundation is expected to operate beyond its current generation, the family should involve younger members in mission development. Advisors can play a key role in facilitating those connections. By engaging the children, the family and foundation will likely increase the next generation’s interest while also gaining new perspectives and ideas.

3. Whether Brief Or Detailed, Be Clear
An effective mission statement can be very brief or detailed. Either way, it should be worded clearly so the foundation’s internal and external audiences can easily understand it.

At the very least, it helps to include a description of the change the foundation wants to see (or the impact it wants to make). More detailed statements may also include a description of how the foundation will effect that change.

Consider the brief mission statement of the American Diabetes Foundation: “To prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes.”

Compare that with the more detailed statement of the Eat.Learn.Play Foundation, which says it is “committed to unlocking the amazing potential of every child by fighting to end childhood hunger, ensuring students have access to a quality education, and providing safe places for all children to play and be active.”

4. Allow Room For Growth
A foundation should use language broad enough for its charitable focus to be modified or expanded down the road. That can particularly benefit those organizations set up in perpetuity. As times change, future generations may want or need to adapt, and a broad mission can help a foundation address current and emerging issues more nimbly.

Take care, however, not to go too broad. If a mission includes a sweeping phrase like “improve society,” it might be too general to offer helpful direction for the foundation, and possibly prevent the foundation from effecting measurable change in any specific area.

5. Be Open To Shifting Focus
While some foundations’ missions evolve gradually (from broad to specific), others might go through abrupt shifts in focus as families respond to current events or members’ personal experiences. These foundations may start addressing causes their founders never imagined.

6. Revisit It Regularly
Families should view their foundation’s mission development as fluid, something to be revisited periodically as they progress in their work and reflect on the organization’s achievements and impact. Adopting this approach at the outset will prevent the foundation from crafting a mission that later becomes too restrictive. You can complement the foundation’s own work in this area by keeping tabs on it as part of your clients’ overall wealth management portfolio, helping them deploy their capital in a way that aligns with their objectives.

7. Enjoy The Journey
As writer Ralph Waldo Emerson said, it’s not the destination that matters but the journey. A mission can evolve with a foundation’s endeavors—so the process can be an enjoyable one that reflects the personal and philanthropic interests of the family.

When you help your philanthropic clients approach mission development as an iterative process, they can better effect the change that is important to them, while you also strengthen your relationship with them and deliver the tools, support and expertise they need.

Elizabeth Wong is the head of philanthropic advisory services for Foundation Source, the nation’s largest provider of specialized support services for private and family foundations.