Since the economy turned sour, hardly a day goes by without hearing or reading of a nonprofit or charity that is struggling to retain its balance—sometimes its survival. Predictably, the lackluster economy is tagged as the culprit. But is it, really?
True the economic downturn of the past couple of years has played its part in producing stress on nonprofit organizations—both in terms of fundraising but also with regard to increased demand for services. The severity of this downturn has put these concerns in even sharper focus than with many sluggish economies of the past. The question here is whether those nonprofits that find themselves pushed to the brink are the victims of the economy? I would argue that in many—if not most—cases the economy is merely an accelerant rather than a cause.
Jim Collins, in Good to Great, through his analysis of parallel businesses showed that it was not so much external economics that brought down once proud companies but rather a lack of willingness to change and then acting on that willingness while reinterpreting a core mission for the present. As I work with our region’s nonprofits, I see this principle in force almost daily.
When conditions change it shouldn’t mean simply, “business as usual.” It certainly shouldn’t mean doing the same things in the same way—only more so. Such conditions may require a radical change in perspective among organization leadership coupled with a willingness to jettison what isn’t working—in both fundraising approaches and programs, while reinterpreting their core missions for today.
Larry C. Johnson
M. E. Grace & Associates