Friday, January 29, 2010

"sustainability does not = doing the same thing"

MY TITLE IS A QUOTE FROM Nelson Layag of CompassPoint, who commented on Rosetta Thurman's post about the future of nonprofit service/professional organizations. The whole discussion struck a chord with me, but that quote just leapt off the screen.  

(The Andy Warhol quote I found on flickr is no slouch either.)

If there's ever a time for nonprofits to seek new approaches and opportunities, I think this is it.  Much of what we've depended upon to sustain us -- audiences, donors, programs, endowments, networks -- are now dwindling or shifting or are far too narrow or shallow.  To approach planning for the next year or two with the idea that more of the same, but implemented with fewer resources, is somehow a sustaining tactic just seems like so much whistling in the dark.....or spitting in the wind.

This morning I read about the perils of a west coast history museum that now, after more than two years of trying to sustain the loss of significant local government funding, is ready to re-envision itself.  "We are paralyzed," the director said the day before a public meeting to announce plans for divesting itself of some of its historic buildings (they operate a history museum, a children's museum, three historic house museums of which one is a farm, as well as other spaces that are rented for functions).  The organization also has in its care a million or so artifacts and a huge archive.  Their public "plan" is to become self-sustaining.  We'll see.

I recall some years ago another museum whose main benefactor said it was pulling the plug if the museum didn't reinvent itself.  The savvy director developed a bold new plan and got the benefactor to buy in (and buy) a complete revamping of the physical space, reinstallation of the collection and new programming initiatives.  The funding, while less, did not go away.  The director's challenge then became sustaining the momentum (which I think is quite different from sustaining the institution or sustainability).

What's one thing you need to do away with that could put your organization on a more sustainable path?

Photo:  Change from estheticcore

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