November 12, 2008

Ask EDGE - Mission and Strategy

I recently had a discussion with a very tired and discouraged nonprofit leader, who asked in frustration, “Why do we have to always be trying to do more?” As a nonprofit leader, at one point or another those words have probably gone through your head too. And when we’re feeling overloaded, doing more hardley sounds appetizing, and mission-growth is not usually one of things we're axious to pursue.

Mission and strategy are not only important, they are crucial for any organization that intends to lead and serve. There are many answers to the question of why we do more (or expand the depth or effectiveness of what we are currently doing). Let’s look at a couple of the most prominent.

Mission-drive – our INTERNAL MOTIVATION.
If you grew up in or near a church, you’ve probably heard the parable of the talents. In this New Testament story, a master gave three of his servants different sums of money, implored them to invest it wisely, and then left for a long journey. Upon his return, he asked each servant to give an account of funds he had given them. The first servant, who was given the most money, produced the principle plus a return equal to the original investment – a 100% return! The second servant, given a lesser sum, also produced the principle plus a return equal to the original investment – a lesser amount of money, but the same amazing return. The last servant, who had been given the least, was so fearful of losing the principle, that he buried the money until his master returned. The master was furious that the servant had foolishly squandered the opportunity for investment with what he had.

This parable has many applications, but it certainly implores us to do as much as possible with what we have been given. That mission-drive will motivate us to take the resources we have and invest them for as much mission-ROI (return-on-investment) as possible.

“Gold-Medal Syndrome” -- our EXTERNAL REALITY CHECK
In the 2008 Summer Olympics, Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals – a new record in a single Olympic Games. He was a winner, and we remember his face and his accomplishments. But, can you name any of the people who placed 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 10th place in those swimming events? Think about it – to be the 10th best person in the world in anything would be an amazing accomplishment. But in our culture, if you don’t win you are largely ignored.

Now think about how that reality applies to your organization. To be noticed and supported, you need to win. To win, you need to strategize and execute – to do more. The competition demands it! Look at the statistics for nonprofit organizations:

In 1940:
12,000 nonprofits in USA
132,000,000 people in USA
There were 11,000 potential unique people per nonprofit organization.

In 2008:
1,400,000 nonprofits in USA
305,000,000 people in USA
There are now only 218 potential unique people per organization, and 119 more nonprofits starting every day!

Based on that reality, think about the impact on donations, leadership and staff, board members, volunteers, and pro bono support. Think about how important it is to "win" and attract the resources your mission needs.

One final thought
Allowing mission and strategy to lead your organization to grow does not mean you have to work harder. It simply means you have to work smarter, with more focus, and with a greater clarity about what you should and should not put your efforts into. Mission-driven organization’s always out-perform organizations who simply have a “mission statement.” Which one will you be?

[posted by Shannon D. Barnes. Let us help you clarify your organization’s purpose and strategic course. Contact us –]

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