Non-Profits: Caught in the Whirlwind

In the excellent book, “The Four Disciplines of Execution,” Chris McChesney & Sean Covey warn of “getting caught in the whirlwind”. Put simply, this means that our goals are often neglected or delayed because we allow “urgent” matters to take priority over what is really important.

I have spent over 30 years working in the nonprofit community and this may be the single most significant reason that so many charitable organizations struggle. Money is always at the center of an organization’s ability to serve and I have seen every possible scenario of “whirlwind thinking and actions” in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Here are just a few:

  • Mission Drift: This is when the organization takes on new programs, or alters their primary mission in pursuit of income. For example: A major donor offers to fund a program outside the primary mission, but to get the money we have to embrace mission drift.
  • Grant Requirements: This is similar to mission drift except you get to pursue your primary goal, but the grant has so many requirements and stipulations that it takes significant time and manpower away from the primary purpose of the organization. We do our work, just far less effectively.
  • Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim … This is the ever-learning, never-acting model. We are always in preparation mode because someone has a great new idea for fundraising, or a new management tool, or the latest business concept. We never develop a clear plan of action! We hear that some other organization had success raising money with an online auction so we drop what we are doing and shift gears, losing whatever momentum we had for the previous efforts.
  • Cross-training: This is the curse of almost every small-medium non-profit I have ever worked with. We want everyone cross-trained, or they are expected to step up when there is a gap in productivity. The problem is we pull our best people away from what they do best. We hire them for one job and then expect them to do it well when they are given five other jobs to do.

There is an answer to having your organization always caught up in the whirlwind. It comes from having a clear, simple plan. Not a 50 page plan that took 6 months to develop. A 2-3 page plan that is flexible and action oriented. The best approach I have ever been exposed to comes from Donald Miller’s book, “Storybranding.” For more information on how to develop an effective plan that will keep you out of the whirlwind (well, most of the time), drop me a line at Trent Wheeler for a free outline.

Trent Wheeler

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