Category Archives: P

Purpose Statement

What it means

A purpose statement (purpose, mission, vision, values) is a declarative and specific statement of why the museum exists. Because museums exist to serve audiences, the purpose statement must also clarify its specific commitment to its community and audiences. A museum’s purpose statement is the foundation for its mission and vision statements.

Our outline of the most common strategic tools is as follows:
Purpose: Why we exist
Mission: The means by which we will achieve our purpose
Vision: The future we wish to bring into being
Values: The principles we will abide by as we seek to achieve our purpose

How it’s used

Clarity and simplicity are essential characteristics of an effective purpose statement. A museum’s purpose statement must be known and understood by all those within the organization so that they can actively work to align with it.

Purpose and mission are often used interchangeably, but purpose answers the question of “why,” and mission defines how or what an organization will do to accomplish its purpose. Purpose and vision are also sometimes used interchangeably and have some overlap. When defining both the purpose and the vision is deemed overly complex, our recommendation is to prioritize purpose because of its greater capacity for immediate guidance. Doing all the things outlined in the mission in service of its purpose will enable the museum to advance toward its vision.

An organization’s core values, or values system, are the ethics that guide the organization as it works to carry out its mission and achieve its purpose. Core values should be complementary to an organization’s purpose.

While not common in the museum sector, a purpose statement is a standard tool in the for-profit and nonprofit communities.

Why it matters

In an ever-changing world, how a museum and its stakeholders decide what to do and what not to do is crucial, but not always easy to ask and answer. Where do we turn to as individuals, employees, and as organizations when difficult questions arise? A museum’s purpose statement is invaluable at such moments because it ensures that every employee can see if their work is aligned with and contributing to the museum’s purpose.


For reference, we include the purpose and mission statements of the International Audience Engagement group. See

Our purpose is to create a museum culture centered around audiences.

Our mission is to create a global network of museum leaders in audience engagement committed to advancing the public value of museums through supporting an authentic internal and external focus on the audience experience.


See also Core Values



What it means

The public is the broadest possible term for the people who live in the society outside of your organization. The word is most often used in a political or geographical sense, to identify those who live in a particular state or a city, or who make up the communities in which your organization works.

How it’s used

The term public is often conflated with audience. They are closely related; however, audience is a more structured group of the public who is paying attention to your organization, targeted to receive a message, or receiving your messages and acting on them. In general, the public is the large and diverse group of all the people who could potentially be impacted by or intersect with your organization but may not yet be formally involved as members, donors, attendees, visitors, etc. It’s everyone we have the opportunity or potential to reach.

Many organizations also use the term in its plural form, publics, to identify multiple different broad groups that they are aware of. For example, if I am a national museum, my publics may be both local and spanning the country. These publics may not yet be audiences.

Why it matters

Almost all museums include as their mission a responsibility to the public, whether they are key audiences or not. The idea of public opinion and public perception, or the field of public relations, for example, are also built on the idea that what the public thinks, does, and says matters deeply to the success of an organization. Museums, on their most fundamental level, promote the public good.