Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.
In a post titled “Not Pretty,” John talks about Pablo Picasso’s painting of Gertrude Stein and how it was a portrait of what he thought she would look like as an older woman. John used this story to springboard off into organizational development and change management themes. It was the following passage from his post that really got me thinking:
“First off, how the organization performs in the future may hardly resemble how the organization is performing today … Time — aging — will have its way. Things will change. Without the critical development of structure, process, culture, and talent, time — and change — will wreak havoc. Capabilities will erode. New capabilities will be needed.”
When I read this, I visualized rocks being pounded by ocean waves. In real-time, the rocks seem to win because waves disperse and scatter into mist and foam. However, the reality of the situation is the absolute opposite. The waves are actually winning. Right? Because in the long run those rocks turn into sand as a result of the pounding they take.
In this analogy, your non-profit agency is the rock and you’re more than likely eroding.
As time passes, the waves of change crash against your seemingly rock solid organizational exterior, but change is slowly occurring. Here are just a few examples:
- You lose employees
- You lose board volunteers
- Your strategic plan is aging (in fact, all of your plans are aging)
- Your technology systems are becoming outdated and old
- Your base of donors gets older and their individual capacities change
- Best practices and cutting edge practices morph and refine themselves (e.g. who saw online giving as an option 50 years ago?)
- Your community’s economic foundation is eroding and changing (e.g. industrialization to information, local to global, etc)
Whether you feel it or not, your non-profit organization is being pounded into one big pile of sand.
And you are more than likely making things worse!
In recent years, there has been a lot written about “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle” by folks like Dan Pallotta (via his books Uncharitable and Charity Case) as well as the recent open letter titled “The Overhead Myth” from GuideStar, Charity Navigator and Better Business Bureau.
I think an article by Ann Goggins Gregory and Don Howard in Stanford Social Innovation sums up the mistake many of us are making very well:
“A vicious cycle is leaving nonprofits so hungry for decent infrastructure that they can barely function as organizations—let alone serve their beneficiaries. The cycle starts with funders’ unrealistic expectations about how much running a nonprofit costs, and results in nonprofits’ misrepresenting their costs while skimping on vital systems—acts that feed funders’ skewed beliefs. To break the nonprofit starvation cycle, funders must take the lead.”
Is this you? Are you skimping? Are you living for today and ignoring tomorrow?
In a previous post titled “Ending the ‘Overhead Myth’ is everywhere,” I was skeptical. I honestly don’t think an open letter to donors or a ton of online chatter will change donor perceptions about the value of investing in what John describes as “…structure, process, culture, and talent…”
If you’re going to engage your donors in this discussion because they are the key to allowing you to invest in what they perceive as “overhead,” then you’re going to need someone like Pablo Picasso to help you assess what your organization will look like in the future. This information will help you develop your case for support, which is what you need before engaging your donors in this conversation.
Is this way too much work for you to consider? No problem . . . I’ll see you at the beach! 😉
What is your agency doing to engage donors and win their hearts and minds when it comes to “The Overhead Myth” and the “Nonprofit Starvation Cycle”? Who is your Pablo Picasso helping you with organizational assessment (both present and future)? If you’re thinking about using an external consultant to help you with all of this . . . I think I know someone who wants to help you! 😉
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC