Monday, April 15, 2013

Procedures don't exclude passion!

This blog is largely targeted to small nonprofits and people wanting to start nonprofits, but it apparently  struck a nerve with a board member at an established nonprofit, as evidenced by this email excerpt.

"I am so sick of people like you telling nonprofits to operate like businesses that I can't find words to express it. WE ARE NOT BUSINESSES! Furthermore, we don't want to be a business. We exist to help people or support causes and there is no room in that mission for your silly performance evaluations or business plans or any of that stuff.  All that just takes time and money away from our ability to deliver services and adds to our administrative costs. We can only exist if we can express our passion and create that passion in other people."

I appreciate this person's willingness to share that viewpoint. I do respectfully submit that I have never suggested that being more business-like in the procedures of obtaining grants and controlling administrative processes should take precedence over achieving your mission. In fact I addressed this very issue in the post "Structure not Stricture"(

Grant applications generally require some proof of impact. Some programs will not produce the desired results, just as some products are not successful in the marketplace. It is up to you to prove they are worth funding, and I'm not sure how you can do that without having any evaluation procedures in place. If the evaluation shows weaknesses, why would a grantor fund it?

I'm not sure why having procedures in place to measure outcomes or prevent waste of grant funds should be diametrically opposed to the passion for the mission. If I was a donor to this person's organization, I would certainly want to know if they met their program goals, or judge for myself whether their programs actually met my personal passion for their cause. Add to that the undeniable fact that more foundation and corporate funders are expecting a higher level of performance (outcome) measurement and better accounting for funding. The need for planning and measuring program impact seems to be something you would want to do.

I certainly understand that helping even a handful of people or animals, cleaning a mile of highway or whatever your mission addresses is preferable to doing nothing. My goal is to help nonprofits attract funding and keep expenses at a realistic level to provide the maximum ability to achieve and expand the mission. I just don't know any way to do that without utilizing some practices that overlap into the world of conventional business. In far too many cases, what I observe is that there is an unwillingness to confront problems, and not having procedures in place allows the organization to ignore warning signs.

Take the strategic plan (which is not a conventional business plan).  Properly constructed this should actually support and expand enthusiasm, not put a damper on it. Good nonprofit strategic plans are for the purpose of focusing efforts on mission accomplishment, not counting pennies. If it exposes a flaw, wouldn't you rather know about it and fix it  before you commit countless hours and dollars to a project doomed to failure?

If this nonprofit is getting maximum impact for the mission, meeting all their goals and are as big as they ever want to be, then by all means they should continue to do what they are doing. I do wonder how they know that they are meeting their goals if they didn't have a way to set that goal in the first place, and I sincerely hope they are not measuring effectiveness by number of people in a program, rather than by how many people are better off in some way because of the program.

Having said that, I see far more organizations that are barely surviving because they can't answer even the most basic questions that grantors ask, and for them I will continue to advocate for having structure within their organizations. There is a reason why the Internal Revenue Service reported that over 10,000 nonprofits simply ceased to exist in 2012. If I can prevent that through assisting nonprofits to survive and prosper, then I've met my mission goals. 

Rebecca Lee Baisch

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