Monday, October 20, 2014

Managing your Mission

Recently I was listening to a nonprofit founder explain that the person's  organization was set up to serve 100 clients onsite at any given time, but was now serving 300-400 onsite. The reason given was that the town had no other resources to handle all the clients who needed help.

The person was taking questions, and two things bothered me.  One of them is the scenario above, and the other was a question from the audience asking how the person could set up a nonprofit doing the same thing, but by taking some of the overflow that was outside the original nonprofit's mission.

The question didn't bother me.  What bothered me is that the speaker completely dismissed it, saying that if the person wanted to help they should just support the existing group.

This is a very well-publicized charity, one whose name you would probably recognize immediately. The speaker had just said that they were over-loaded and that financing this operation was a constant struggle, even before the addition of the extra client load.

This is a glaring example of mission creep destroying an otherwise fine organization.

Without going into too much more background, this charity is offering a service that people are taking advantage of inappropriately and knowingly.

The mission, once closely defined, has now been expanded to serve a population that was never initially part of the plan.

Knowing a bit about the history of this group, I seriously doubt that there is enough money out there to keep the place going unless they take charge of their mission again.

I totally understand how that happens.  It happens when you care too much, and when you won't or can't say "no".

This whole thing is wrong on many levels.
 
In the first place, people who have been supporting the organization have been sending money to support the core mission, once tightly focused on one target population. If they are donating because of a connection to that target population, they may feel that it is being shortchanged to accommodate a totally different group. That can impact funding.

Second, instead of doing a stellar job with that target population, the charity is now barely servicing any of the clients. The outcomes they desire not only aren't happening, they can't happen.

Third, when someone offered to try to help by setting up a nonprofit working in the same field, the founder blew them off, and even sounded insulted that anyone would even offer to provide another resource.

I sort of understand the response.  It takes a long time to build an effective nonprofit, the organization's need for more funding is immediate and a new organization might compete for already scarce funds. But by being so openly derisive, the founder probably turned the would-be helper into a non-supporter.

A far better choice would have been to say that they would welcome the person as a volunteer, show them the ropes, and then if that resulted in a new organization in the future, turn over some of the clients to them.

The upshot of all of this is that I sort of lost interest in the organization.  If you need help, you're begging for help, but you don't want to fix what's wrong and won't accept help when it is offered, I'm probably not going to feel that supporting you is the best long-term use of my funds.

In short, you have to manage your mission for maximum effectiveness. As hard as it is, no organization can help everyone, all the time.