Perspective is a marvelous thing: it materially affects what you do, how you see things and how you place yourself in action. When I am in the midst of it all, the heat of battle, my perspective narrows and my defenses are quite high. From an outside perspective, the very same battle may appear quite different, often seen with different enemies or even confusion which flag needs to be captured.
I have been inside the ramparts, and know the intense feelings I have when I listen to criticism about my nonprofit, from its goals and methods and even sometimes, its purpose. Are we research for the future, or here-and-now? Are we directed towards results, big change, cures or do we seek to make today and tomorrow better enough to hang on for the long haul?
Accountability is about clarity of purpose and goals, as well as the who- does- what –when- mantra. When there is transparency and direction, things can and will get done.
The best laid plans
Aaaah, but as it goes with so many things, ‘tis many a slip between the cup and the lip’. Someone wasn’t clear about what they were to do, or when to do it, someone was afraid to start and never did, someone did start with enthusiasm and brio, but faded into the stretch. Then what?
Some of my favorite TV shows are the failure re-enactments; particularly with computer animations to show how the wing fell off and the fuselage broke apart, or when the shearing forces of an iceberg ground alongside a brittle iron hull, or how simple, yet frozen, O rings result in tragedy. When the hastily planned conference does not bring in the expected revenue, when the community outreach program stalls, when the membership numbers do not grow; how do we analyze that failure?
Engineering and math are dispassionate, but that type of dispassion is rare in the nonprofit world. Which stands to reason, as no one gets into the nonprofit area for the fun of it or the easy hours and nice perks. People are in nonprofit organizations because there is an unmet and possibly urgent need, because they care enough to do something.
What happens when passion and failure combine?
Suddenly, everyone and everything is blameworthy and not MY fault. Someone should have known better, planned better, seen this coming. Who was in charge, who is running the store here? Who made this stupid call, anyway? Management theorists call for bravery and risk taking and to be unafraid to fail. Among those that suggest this, I submit that few have been part of a board meeting after a big loss or major screw up where there is simply no margin for error.
What is neat to see is how quickly some of people develop a thick layer of Teflon- it was never their idea, they weren’t in favor of this plan, don’t you remember? I only went along with it because everyone else did, or he made me, or she insisted. Like the shapeshifters, they were never on board, and in fact warned that this result might occur. The heavy, greasy layer of ‘I told you so’ makes the ground a bit slippery, especially when they didn’t.
Calm down, take a deep breath, fix it
We are all in this together, whether fundraising or taking a chance or making it right. Stand up, straighten up and fixit. Figure out, as with engineering, how and why it didn’t work and change that, not history. Make a better timeline, be more direct about responsibilities and deadlines and don’t be afraid to pull the plug.
There are thousands of quotations about those who use bricks for foundations, or and those who use for throwing. If you commit to the work, commit to the building and ownership of that effort, even if it fails sometimes. Do your part, the part you said you would do, and just a bit better than you know you can. Be the zombiekiller, not the smoke left behind of someone who was never really there.
If you’d like some help in defeating these types of non-profit creatures, get in touch here or call me on 310 828 6979.
Cindy Lauren is the Principal of Lauren Associates – non profit consulting
As well as advising Executives and Boards on all aspects of nonprofit management, the firm specializes in developing fundraising solutions for all sizes of organizations.