[By Richard Male, Regis Nonprofit Affiliate Faculty member] Almost every organization has a tendency now and then to drift away from its mission and start down a path of following money.
Ironically, this drift can occur as a result of success–particularly successful growth.
Once an organization enters the mature stage of its development, the executive director’s appetite for money increases because of the nonprofit’s sheer size: there are a lot of mouths to feed and the nonprofit requires more people and financial resources to survive. At this stage, some organizations accidentally reverse the means and ends, focusing more on the maintenance of the entity that has been created rather than fulfilling its mission.
Here are some of the key signs that your organization is suffering from mission drift:
1. You look for the dollars first and programs second.In other words, building your program around dollars is an early first sign of mission drift. The driving force should be program design that is directly targeted toward a constituency, not a design driven by funding.
2. Clarity about your mission is blurred. When you ask board members what the organization’s mission is and everyone has a different answer, you know something is not right.
4. Large turnover of staff/board members. A churn of staff and board frequently takes place when a nonprofit loses sight of its values and mission.
5. You find yourself in a crisis mode, chasing dollars like a dog chasing its tail. You may also find yourself wandering off into unexpected program or service areas(that don’t fit your values or purpose). You’re too frantic to see it, but this is a clear sign of mission drift.
6. Key staff and leaders begin to question why the nonprofit is in business at all. They ask themselves if they have already accomplished the mission and wonder if it might be time to re-evaluate the purpose of the organization.
7. You constantly question whether or not you are violating your ethical standards because you find yourself partnering with companies with a strong potential for a conflict of interest (i.e., youth groups taking money from alcohol companies).
8. You are “coasting” and not on the cutting edge of creativity and effectiveness. When some groups reach maturity, they lose their energy and passion and feel thatthe work is just a job rather than a way to change the world.
9. A core group of board members or other volunteers are pushing the organization in a certain direction that is not consistent with the mission. This sometimes happens when you have a board that is literally or figuratively removed from the mission and has a different culture than the core staff.
10. The executive director is valiantly trying to justify stagnant and decreasing numbers. Make sure the numbers on reports to funding sources and on your IRS Form 990 reflect the reality of your organization’s situation.
Reprinted with permission from Richard Male and Associates, www.richardmale.com, 303-355-2919.
Richard Male is an Affiliate Faculty member of the Global Leadership in Nonprofit program at Regis University with over 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector as a leader and teacher. He founded Richard Male Associates in 2001 to work with nonprofits throughout the United States and internationally, helping small to mid-sized organizations with organizational development, leadership and management issues, fundraising and financial management and public policy opportunities.