One of the building blocks of nonprofit life is connection to community. The community and its needs are what nonprofits serve; in turn, the community’s support is the lifeblood for the nonprofit’s work. We know that the most successful nonprofits build themselves around addressing unmet needs. They offer programs and services to individuals that ultimately make their communities livable and sustainable.
Believing this, I’m always a little disappointed and frustrated when I meet up with organizations where the community (individually or collectively) is never addressed in mission statements or strategic plans, or consulted with in program development and evaluation, or used as a barometer of shifting trends or as a metric for success. This “dis-integration” from the public may have been the prevailing standard, particularly in the formation of cultural nonprofits, of another century, but it certainly holds no ground in the 21st.
The two big questions every nonprofit must answer are: why is it important that we do what we do? and who are we doing this important work for/with? For many organizations, these two questions seem to be the most difficult to answer.
Some hallmarks of organizational “dis-integration” are:
· board members hail from the same social set, similar professions or neighborhoods (staff and volunteers, too)
· vision and mission statements don’t address the two big questions – why? and who?
· stakeholder voices are not evident in strategic planning and resulting plans
· organizational plans that lack benchmarks for community interaction
· stakeholders have no regular role in programmatic decisions or program evaluation
· no vocalized recognition among board or staff that the community could/should have a voice in the services and programs the nonprofit offers to the public
· the “public” or the “community” is seen and/or treated as a monolith