How many times have you heard “if I ran my business the way you ran your not for profit…?” The fact is that a non-profit organization (NPO) is not like a business. In business, the primary goal is making money. The definition of success is profit. However in an NPO the definition of success is Mission. A successful NPO generates mission, not profit. This is the primary difference.
Of course it takes revenue to generate mission and therein lies the challenge for boards and for NPO’s. Earning revenue, through sales, fund-raisers or government grants is necessary in order to achieve mission. However, NPO’s run the risk of chasing funds, creating mission drift and leading to some very undesirable consequences.
Effective boards: Effective board members participate because they wish to see change; or, what Mike Burns, in his article “The Theory of Change: A Tool for Bringing Board Members Together” describes as “a dissatisfaction with the status quo.” Truly effective boards have their focus on mission. They have a keen belief in driving change to improve a specific situation. Board decisions are driven by the impact of that decision on achieving more mission. When agencies and boards forget their primary purpose is to achieve more mission and follow the money instead, their results may actually be counterproductive and result in less mission. Board members with a true passion will then tend to drop off and the result is a board more invested in earning money than in achieving change.
Programs that drive change: Many changes we have seen in the past 100 years have been the result of a group of people coming together, advocating and doing something to drive that change. Effective grass roots organizations often are dissatisfied with something and come together to make it different. If that organization forgets its initial drive for change and begins to “chase money,” it runs the risk of seeing its advances in a specific cause fade away and its mandate begin to shift. If the organization does not remember where it is going, the initial problem may never be solved, or people requiring supports may not receive them.
Existing to raise funds: Many years ago, I sat on a board of a struggling agency. Its primary fund-development activity was Bingo. However, it required more and more volunteer time to run the bingo. The board conversations became focused on how to keep the bingo going. When volunteers could not be recruited to run the bingo, staff were removed from their mission producing roles to run bingo. By the time I arrived on the scene, the agenda for the board was focused on operating a bingo in order to continue to pay staff. The agency became so focussed on raising money that the completely stopped producing any mission.
Here are some suggestions to keep your agency focused on its mission:
- Develop your mission statement: When strategic planning, often we either “rush” the development of our mission statement or get very focused on the wording rather than on the actual outcome we want to achieve. Rather than having “group think” on the exact wording, boards should spend more effort in identifying what change they want to see as a result of the their agency’s work. If the focus of the mission is substantially changed, ensure that the rationale for that change is sound.
- Use mission to drive decision making: Your mission statement is more than a few nice words on a piece of paper. It must effect every decision that an NPO makes. Any time the decision will not lead to more mission, the question is “why are we making this decision?”
- Recruit board members who share your organization mission: Recruit board members who are passionate about achieving mission. Include a question in your board member interview about why they are joining this board. Ensure that their goals align with your organization’s mission.
- Orient and train directors about your mission: Remind board members that the financial goals of the agency are a means of achieving mission; not an “end.” While directors with a business mindset are ideally situation to offer input into improving efficiency, they cannot lose sight of the fact that the financial goal of the agency should be ensuring that there is enough money to achieve the mission.
Streamline New Perspective Solutions offers management consulting services for non-profit organizations. Please visit www.streamlinenps.ca