Friday, June 5, 2009

Fix It or Ditch It?

Without question, the common denominator among most -- if not all -- of the nonprofits I work with is that they carry a heavy load of organizational activities.  Staff, volunteers, money, and space are stretched to their limits.  The programmatic calendar is full.  The school buses are lined up at the door.   A public expectation has been created that must now be met again and again.   The load is getting heavier. Let's hope the bottom doesn't drop out.  

Does this picture look familiar?  A common trait across the nonprofit sector is that institutions, particularly smaller ones, tend to take on a fair amount of work without first determining its costs and its benefits. The heavy load gets heavier and no one wants to dump any of it.  How do you choose?  Here's what I hear: 'Wouldn't someone be offended if a program, procedure or policy were suddenly jettisoned to make way for something new?' or 'We've been doing this activity so long that it defines us' or how 'bout the dreaded 'This is what we've always done (or how we've always done it)!'

So now get a mental picture of your organization's human and financial resources.  Think of them as the dinner plate that holds all the lovely programmatic and administrative food.  The size of the plate is determined by the amount of human and financial resources -- and time -- your organization has at its command.  Now, start adding the mission-related activities to the plate.  Bet it's getting full.  Don't forget to add the non-mission-related stuff you've gotten sucked into.  Now your plate looks like it's gone through the smorgasbord line a couple of times.

If you've been reading this blog for a bit, you are aware of my posts about developing criteria by which to measure sustainability and success.  Hopefully, you've mined some nuggets that may be gold.  Here are a few more really basic thoughts that might help you decide what to keep on your plate and what to take away:
  • make an inventory of what's on your organizational plate and share that with your nonprofit's decision-makers (frankly, I think I'd share it with everybody -- you all share the plate).
  • using your mission and strategic plan as a guide, take one set of your organizational activities on that plate, such as special events, exhibitions, elementary school programs, etc., and sort them into three big piles:  Meets Mission, Fix to Better Meet Mission, and Ditch.
  • focus on the Fix pile.  Chances are you can't fix all at once so create a couple more criteria to filter the fix pile down to one or two you can reasonably work on in the next 6 months or so. (In fact, a timeframe like that could be a filter.)
  • develop the rationales for ditching the Ditch pile.
  • too many Meets Mission activities?  What filters can you apply to winnow that pile down? (check here and here for some help)
  • think about ways to make your plate bigger.
  • acknowledge that any new item added to the plate means something that's already there needs to come off.
  • maintain this discipline.  You get the gold star if you do.
Photo:  thumbs up, thumbs down by Donna Pinciotti

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