Difference between Purpose and Mission
By Theydiffer - November 18, 2015

Many people confuse the terms purpose and mission; although both terms are similar in meaning they entail two different concepts.  There are many schools of thought the usage and definitions of these two terms; however, the correct implications of these terms can only be understood when they are used in the right context.


Purpose has been defined as the object towards which one strives or for which something exists. It can also be explained as an aim or a goal which one wants to achieve or fulfill in life or career.

Mission is defined as a declaration of intent and focus that remains unchanged even over a long period of time.  It can also be called an important task or a duty which has been assigned, allotted or self-imposed and is followed by strong conviction, calling or vocation for accomplishment.

Purpose vs Mission

What is the difference between Purpose and Mission? The easiest way to understand it is to know that a purpose is the reason which initiates a process. Nothing can be achieved without a purpose or goal in mind, and a mission is the guiding force that helps to follow that purpose. It is only with a set mission in mind that we follow the path that we have chosen for ourselves.

Getty Images/Image Source/Robin Skjoldborg

Purpose makes us do what we want to, but a mission drives us to that purpose. Without a mission, it becomes very hard to achieve a purpose as it helps us to eliminate distractions and reach the destination which has been set by the purpose.

According to a Harvard Business Review article, a mission,

“describes what business the organization is in (and what it isn’t) both now and projecting into the future. Its aim is to provide focus for management and staff.”

The same article also discusses purpose, comparing it to “a guiding star on the horizon—forever pursued but never reached. Even though the purpose itself does not change, yet it can inspire change and even though it is not fully realized, it keeps on stimulating change and progress”.

When we talk about purpose, we talk about having something in mind that we want to achieve.  On the other hand, when we talk about mission, we talk about what we do, why we do it and how we do it so that the audience is able to connect with it and understand the guiding force behind that mission which is in most cases, our purpose.

Mission and purpose are mostly used for business as they help to define the reasons for an organization’s processes and its goals to the consumers. A mission statement is a written pronouncement of an organization’s precise focus that may shift with the passage of time with changes in the market and environment.  On the other hand, a purpose statement presents the fundamental reason that drives an organization and motivates it to achieve its business goals.

It is important to know that purpose goes much deeper and stays till the end as it is the core reason why an organization is working. It would not be wrong to say that it is its reason for being and doing.  Whether it is for personal reasons or for corporate ones, mission and purpose statement play a key role in keeping focused in the right direction and navigating challenges most capably.

Comparison Chart

It is a statement of doing somethingIt is a statement of how to accomplish a vision or a purpose
Purpose is deciding to go ahead with a taskThe mission is following that task to completion
Purpose guides the taskMission drives and encourages one to complete the task
Purpose explains the “why” in doing somethingMission states the “what” and “for whom” for accomplishing a task
In business it means the fundamental reason for which the organization exists.In business it means the organization’s focus which may change with time.