On July 16, 2012, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, died from complications stemming from a bicycle accident. Seven Habits sold more than 20 million copies in roughly 40 different languages, but Covey’s work was far more than just literary, as his personal clients included three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies and scores of schools and government entities. Covey trained three dozen heads of state, including the presidents of Colombia and South Korea and their cabinets, and both Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich were among his ardent fans.
As the Economist put it in 1986, "Coveyism is total quality management for the character, re-engineering for the soul — a tempting product in an age when the organizational versions of these disciplines have often pushed employee morale to rock bottom."
In the second of his seven habits, Covey spelled out how a mission statement – personal or corporate – functions as your constitution, the solid expression of personal or corporate vision and values. The mission becomes the very basis by which you measure everything else in your life in terms of making the daily decisions “in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives.”
For a private company which functions to make money, the mission is clearly to earn profit. A publicly held corporation on the New York Stock Exchange for example is actually bound by law to pursue maximum profit on behalf of their shareholders (which is essentially why the Recreational Fishing Alliance takes an antagonistic view of Omega Protein Corporation, a publicly held company whose sole mission is to vacuum as much menhaden from the ecosystem as humanly possible in order to turn a profit for its corporate shareholders). In a true capitalist sense, a typical corporate mission statement is written to guide a company towards the ultimate goal of earning income and maximizing profit.
For a non-profit organization on the other hand, Covey’s mission statement is even more important. For an organization which is recognized as non-profit in the eyes of the government, profit is not the goal; instead, it is up the mission statement to provide a clear statement of the purpose of an organization so as to guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and lead overall decision-making.
When a non-profit organization's purpose is to serve some part of the community as a whole, it is essential that the mission statement clearly defines the services to be performed and the compassion driving the people who provide those services. Developing the mission statement therefore becomes a critical first step in defining what a non-profit organization plans to do; it also defines how that organization is different from any other in the same field.
In other words, the non-profit mission statement is an iron-bound constitution from which no one involved in the organization may ever deviate. No egos, no personal or individual goals, but instead a strict constitution for which all strategies are formulated and carried out on behalf of the entire organization and its membership.
HOW DOES A MISSION STATEMENT IMPACT YOU?
Before signing up to support a non-profit organization as individual member or sustaining supporter, it’s important to first consider the mission statement. Does the mission truly represent your own personal goals? Is the reason why you are looking to join or support an organization substantiated by that organization’s own constitution? Does the organizational mission statement protect you and your rights?
In the world of recreational fisheries today, there has been plenty of talk about an angler’s personal right to fish, yet there’s only ever been one organization charted specifically with that mission in mind and that’s the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA). Founded in 1996 as a non-profit political action organization and modeled after the National Rifle Association (NRA), RFA’s personal mission is to “safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries.”
When you break down the key words in the RFA’s mission, you’ll see “safeguard,” “rights,” “saltwater anglers”, “protect” and “saltwater fisheries, in addition to “marine, boat and tackle industry jobs.”
These are constitutional staples, missing from the mission statements of other organizations in the same field which claim to do the same thing. However, you need to consider for a moment the following “mission statements” offered up by other groups in the sportfishing field.
(Keep in mind that this is in no way meant to criticize those groups listed below, but instead to point out a very clear contrast between RFA and any other organization in America whose members have sometimes been led to believe that their right to fish is being protected through active membership.)
Take for example the Coastal Conservation Association or CCA whose stated mission is “to advise and educate the public on conservation of marine resources. The objective of CCA is to conserve, promote, and enhance the present and future availability of those coastal resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public.”
While CCA has often been referenced as an angler’s organization, the actual non-profit mission does not show any indication of being such. While saltwater anglers in Florida have flocked to CCA over the years because of their efforts to destroy the commercial fishing industry, there is nothing in the CCA mission to indicate that the “rights” of “saltwater anglers” will be either “safeguarded” or “protected” should the organization ever be successful in their stated mission to “advise and educate the public on conservation of marine resources.”
Another organization often described as the voice of anglers is the International Game Fish Association or IGFA. According to their longstanding mission statement, “the International Game Fish Association is a not-for-profit organization committed to the conservation of game fish and the promotion of responsible, ethical angling practices through science, education, rule making and record keeping.”
Again, while IGFA may have been founded on the premise of “record keeping,” the “conservation of game fish,” and promoting “responsible, ethical angling practices,” there is nothing in the IGFA mission that shows it is concerned with America’s right to fish.
Similarly, the Billfish Foundation (TBF) is another non-profit organization with a very clear mission which is “dedicated to the conservation and enhancement of billfish populations worldwide through research, education and advocacy.” TBF has taken a truly admirable path to protect the world’s billfish stocks, dedicated to protecting marlin, sailfish and swordfish specifically, and their work is to be respected. But arguably, if you’re concerned about the closure of red snapper, how is TBF structured to help you?
Of course, if as an angler you’re most interested in snook or tarpon, you might prefer to be a member of the Snook Foundation or Save the Tarpon. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, anglers rallied behind the summer flounder in recent years by supporting the Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund, while a handful of striper aficionados pressing for gamefish protection of linesides have focused efforts in that fight through Stripers Forever.
All these individual species are terrific and the missions of the organizations themselves are truly admirable; in meshing with that common theme of sustainability, RFA specifically dedicated itself through development of its mission in 1996 to “ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries”- in meeting our own mission to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers and protect recreational industry jobs, RFA must tread carefully in making our decisions best on the overall “long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries.”
By adhering to a more angler-specific perspective, RFA does not put itself in a situation of compromise…in order to get gamefish protection for striped bass for example, we would not have to compromise on someone else’s efforts to protect billfish stocks. Or if legislators had a choice of legislation to protect snook or tarpon, which effort would succeed and which would fail? This is one of the perfect examples of why combination hunting and fishing organizations or broad caucuses of ‘like-minded’ sportsmen are rarely effective. Imagine an opportunity to allow sport hunters the opportunity to take game on Sunday hinging upon whether or not an added tax will be inflicted on saltwater anglers or a freshwater hatchery is allowed to continue.
Politics, regrettably, is wrought with compromise. While a coalition of ‘like-minded’ groups or individuals has a pleasant, unifying sound to it, there will always be someone in the union who is forced to compromise, typically the one whose own personal mission is the most challenging to attain.
POLITICAL POWER OVER IMPOTENCE
Many folks assume that all non-profit organizations are essentially alike in their ability to operate legally under U.S. tax law. However, there are key differences between a federally recognized 501(c)(3) ‘non-profit’ and a 501(c)(4) ‘non-profit’ organization, specifically as it relates to an organization’s ability to work the political system on behalf of its mission.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) defines both the 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) as being non-profit organizations exempt from paying federal income tax, however, a 501(c)(3) organization is legally defined more as a public charity while a 501(c)(4) organization is more politically active. Specifically, a 501(c)(3) is limited by law in the amount of time/money they can put into lobbying for particular cause, whereas the 501(c)(4) can do an unlimited amount of lobbying.
A significant tradeoff here is that the 501(c)(4) is therefore ineligible to receive federal monies like grants.
Under federal law, a 501(c)(3) cannot in any way support or oppose anyone running for public office. A 501(c)(4) on the other hand can engage in political campaign activity, so long as this is consistent with the organization’s mission and is not the organization’s primary activity. Because of these political and campaigning activities, any donation made to a 501(c)(4) which is not a public entity like a local fire department is not deductible.
While corporations, environmental non-government organizations and philanthropic trusts groups can freely give to a 501(c)(3) and enjoy the benefits of an IRS tax deduction, those donating money directly to a 501(c)(4) must believe wholeheartedly in the group’s mission statement, given that no IRS ‘charitable’ donation will be recognized.
In terms of achieving political gains in support of an organization’s mission, the 501(c)(4) has power to lobby, whereas the 501(c)(3) has been all but rendered politically impotent under federal tax law. Recognizing this fact in the mid 90’s, the institutional founders of the RFA chose to register their organization with the government as a 501(c)(4) in order to meet its stated mission to “safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries.”
Where other groups like IGFA, TBF and CCA were already established as 501(c)(3) organizations with their exclusive mission, RFA was founded specifically to be the political watchdog for individual anglers and recreational business owners, as well as the resource itself. Like ‘em or hate ‘em, RFA modeled itself on the National Rifle Association (NRA) to specifically function as a lobbying force for anglers.
Over the years, RFA has taken heat from some of the other 501(c)(3) organizations because of our unwillingness to go along for the good of any broad-based coalition. Regrettably, what many of these groups simply can’t understand is that as a 501(c)(4) with a very specific, three-pronged mission (fish, fishermen and fishing industry), simply going along to get along would be flagrant violation of our mission and of grave disservice to our members. Coalition members are typically asked to compromise mission for the good of the group, something which RFA is incapable and unwilling to do.
Having proven extremely effective in its first few years, RFA’s ongoing effort to protect our membership’s right to fish has earned many friends, a few enemies, and a couple of copycats (imitation of course being the highest form of flattery.) In March of 2004 for example, a new organization sprang up in Saint Petersburg, FL called the Fishing Rights Alliance (FRA) which is registered in the state of Florida as a “domestic non-profit corporation.” Flattering to say the least, there has been plenty of confusion ever since with regard to the ‘alphabet soup’ effect. In fact, many times people will call the RFA office to complain about their FRA membership status, where still others have been led to believe that both organizations are the same.
After years of sportfishing industry backlash for failing to fight as actively as the RFA, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) in 2008 helped form a brand new 501(c)(4) organization by bringing in various 501(c)(3) groups including CCA, TBF and IGFA. In the very first press release announcing the formation of the new Center for Coastal Conservation (CCC), it was explained how this non-partisan national organization would be dedicated to enacting sensible marine conservation laws through education and political action. While many industry professionals believed they were getting a new industry-supported political advocate operating exclusively on behalf of America’s right to fish, the organization’s mission statement would tell a completely different story - “Our mission is to promote good stewardship of America’s marine resources.”
TURNING POLITICS INTO A BRAND
The ineffectiveness of the CCC to promote policy or legislation in support of America’s right to fish should’ve been forecast by all who had read the organizational mission statement when it was created back in 2008. “Good stewardship of America’s marine resources,” is a completely imperceptible concept, it cannot be measured nor can it be quantified. As far as mission statements go, it is an aimless and anemic statement which does nothing to show support for the recreational fishing community, but instead leaves political process and strategy open to personal interpretation by the institutional sustainers who sit on its board of directors.
In other words, it’s simply another senseless coalition of compromise.
The rather directionless efforts of their own 501(c)(4) led to the ASA’s rebranding efforts in 2009 when a U.S. federal trademark registration was officially approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for Keep America Fishing™. According to USPTO, “the Keep America Fishing trademark is filed in the category of Advertising, Business & Retail Services, Education and Entertainment Services. The description provided to the USPTO for Keep America Fishing is Public advocacy to promote angler access, fish conservation and fishery management, provided in person and via an on-line website.”
As anglers and business owners began logging in and signing up for Keep America Fishing™ (or KAF as they’re now known) news alerts, bulletins and political action letters, what many failed to understand was that there was no real backend to the effort, no resource or staff. KAF it would appear is just a simple ‘trademark’ issued by the USPTO, where Keep America Fishing™ itself has been described inside the Beltway as little more than a “rebranding effort” by the industry trade association, ASA.
One thing’s for sure, having apparently had 750,000 individuals go through the site and provide personal contact information (email address), the national sportfishing industry now has one amazing marketing database from which to solicit new customers and a super platform for advertisers themselves!
Consider for a moment Wal-Mart, which RFA has heavily criticized in recent years for providing corporate funding to environmental organizations to promote catch shares and marine reserves; in response to a national angler boycott of Wal-Mart nationwide, the retail chain used the Keep America Fishing™ by partnering with ASA to provide a retail incentive on Plano tackle boxes. By emailing their database of contacts with the offer, ASA ultimately gave Wal-Mart cover within the angling community, and in turn KAF was the recipient of additional funding through the sale of every Plano tackle box sold inside Wal-Mart during the course of the campaign.
RFA was never founded to be nice; it wasn’t incorporated to get along, to along, or to sit quietly in the back of the room while others compromised away individual rights on behalf of ego and personal agenda. RFA is the only political organization in America today which was chartered specifically to defend the rights of our nation’s saltwater anglers and business owners, while protecting the future of our saltwater fisheries.
As “grotesque and incomprehensible” as the political process may seem, it is a fact of American life which requires careful and considerate navigation. These are often treacherous waters, and one fatal act of indecision or indiscretion can surely put an entire crew at imminent risk. Before you set a course, you need to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
It all starts with the mission statement.
“…deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way…”