The truth about your agency’s budget versus its mission

budget1Full discloser . . . I went out for a few glasses of wine on Tuesday night with a non-profit friend and got back home a little late at night. So what? Who cares? Well, I need to be up and on the road at 5:00 am to visit an out-of-state client, which means I needed to write my Wednesday blog post on Tuesday night. Oooops! So, I’m heading to bed in the next few minutes and wringing my hands about not writing something in the morning. Luckily, my friend said something provocative over a glass of wine and that will the be center of today’s post.

I can see that you’re now curious.  😉

OK . . . so, you’ve probably figured out that we were more than one glass of wine into the evening when I had my epiphany . Regardless, I think his point is still provocative. He said . . .

“For non-profit organizations, it always comes down to the budget in the final analysis.”

I can already see that some of you are saying, “Duh! Really, Erik? How much wine did you drink last night?” However, I know many of you very well, and some of you are saying, “Ummmm, NO! The budget is important, but it always boils down to a question about mission and vision.

When I first heard my friend’s point, I must admit that I was taken back to high school and American History class.  I thought that the debate about budget vs. mission is analogous to the founding fathers putting a series of checks and balances in the United States Constitution.

How so?

Well, the executive director and staff are typically focused on issues of mission. They are always advocating for clients and programming that best meets the needs of the community. Whereas, the board of directors typically uses the power of the various policy documents (e.g. agency budget, strategic plan, etc) to place parameters on staff to ensure accountability and sustainability.

So, who is right?

At the risk of fueling your suspicion that I might have had one too many glasses of wine on Tuesday evening, I point you in the direction of the following classic 1970s television commercial featuring George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin to resolve this conflict:


Which side of this classic debate do you come down on? In the final analysis, does your agency budget trump everything else or does your mission and vision define the budget? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to your health! And, ohhh yeah . . . cheers!  😉

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. I just left an organization that I’d worked at for 27 years because I could clearly the finances trumped the mission to the point where fundraising was seen as a cost and not a benefit. I am now consulting and will only work with those orgs that truly want to build a sustainable base of support to attain their mission.

    1. Thanks for weighing in Kate! I almost wanna shout AMEN at the top of my lungs after reading your comment. Congrats on getting out, and good luck in your new ventures.

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