I'm trying to launch two twenty-something-year-old sons. As they think about their futures and write and send out résumés, my constant refrain to them is "Don't chase the money; chase your lives. If you don't, you may—and it's only a possibility—end up with the money. However, you may find out later in life that you missed out on discovering your true passion and excelling at what you do best."
The same holds true for organizations: Don't chase the money; passionately pursue your mission.
It's tempting, especially during these hard economic times, to go after whatever money is out there regardless of whether or not it fits into what your organization was created to do. Some people call it "mission creep." I call it bad decision making—and the consequences can be devastating.
Organizations that stretch themselves beyond their core missions:
- Risk the possibility of damaging their long-held reputations for doing quality work on time and in a manner that is transparent, accountable, and responsible.
- Put added strain on staff, especially if staff is not trained or experienced in the types of services or activities a particular funder wants implemented through its financial grant.
- Often end up losing their identities—both internally and externally—by taking on projects that go beyond what they are known for, do best, and take internal pride in.
I'm not referring here to what are often called "stretch goals" by some, meaning a strategy for setting goals that go well beyond conventional expectations within your organization's mission.
For example, let's say over the last several years you've been fortunate enough to increase by 5 percent the number of people to whom you provide your core business services. A stretch goal for you, therefore, may be to try to increase that percentage to 20 percent or even 25 percent over the next 12 months. Ambitious—i.e., a stretch—but still within your mission.
NOTE: If leadership is not careful, even mission-related stretch goals can place undue stress on staff and harm an organization's reputation. But if done properly, sensitively, and strategically, stretch goals also can be useful for growing your organization.
No, what I'm talking about here is chasing money irrespective of your core mission or your organization's current capacity or ability to deliver a quality product on time.
How to Avoid Mission Creep
First, have a clear mission. You'd be surprised at how many organizations aren't clear as to what their missions are or the best ways to go about achieving them. It's imperative, therefore, to define clearly who you are and what you do, and to know what your parameters are.
For example, if for years you've been successful in conducting financial literacy and home-buyer courses to help families purchase their first homes, are you now all of a sudden capable of helping people with mortgage modifications to stay in their homes?
Filter your decisions through that mission. Once you've clarified your mission, filter all your funding acquisition decisions through it. Ask yourself, "Are we responding to this request for proposal (RFP) because we know we can deliver on it with the kind of quality that is expected from us or because the funding is too good to pass up?"
Be sensitive to your staff's capabilities. Is your staff adequately trained and experienced in the kind of work outlined in a specific RFP or grant? What impact would this project have on them with respect to increased workload, stress, or morale issues?
Be aware of your organization's capacity. Even if the work is within your mission, does your organization have the capacity to scale up to fulfill an obligation that exceeds your organization's normal abilities to produce? If not, is it worth chasing the money?
I hope my sons decide to chase their lives—and that you decide to pursue passionately the mission you were created to accomplish—and are capable of accomplishing—with distinction!
Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2010, Checco Communications
Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and author of Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization. Larry is a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding.