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Mission Envy vs. Mission Impact

Mission envy—most nonprofits have at least a minor case of it. Thinking that another organization in your community has it "made." Knowing that the reasons they are so successful are because they have the perfect board members, the easy-to-sell mission, the broad base of community support, the beautiful building(s), the smart and outgoing executive director, a strong development staff. In short—they clearly have it all!

Perhaps there is another side to that story. If you were to talk to the nonprofit's board members, executive director, or staff, you might find that they have their own unique challenges in overcoming that perception that they have it all. They may be grappling with such issues as how to balance funding cutbacks, how to keep their board members engaged, how to convey their most urgent needs in order to fulfill the next big chunk of their mission.

Even if the illusion of that perfect organization were true, so what? How does that pertain to your organization?

I believe that mission envy is merely a justification for putting off dealing with the core issue—how to fulfill your organization's mission impact.

I recommend, rather than spending time comparing your organization to others in your community, that you spend time looking at the broader impact you intend to make in the community, and then take stock of where you currently stand in relation to that goal.

This will take some serious truth telling. In fact, the sooner you can get everyone on your team to tell the truth about your unique challenges, successes, and the next gap to be filled on the path to fulfilling your unique mission, the sooner you can get on with the real work of engaging your community in helping you to fulfill that mission.

You may soon realize that the very reason those "perfect" nonprofits (the ones you are seeking to emulate or envy) got where they are is because they began focusing on mission impact long ago. They set clear goals for the fulfillment of their missions. Then they put their noses to the grindstone and, rather than looking up to compare themselves to others, they got to work on attaining their goals.

Mission impact answers these questions: What specific variables in the world would be altered if our mission were fulfilled? Which of these variables do we choose to track and measure our success on? On each of those variables, what is our current baseline? How far do we want to move the needle, and by when?

It's time to take the envy and comparison out of the picture. Those are merely distractions that keep you from buckling down and focusing on the challenges your group is facing right now. That same valuable time could be spent working with a group of dedicated people—and a smart strategic planning consultant—to clarify your mission impact, determine the metrics you will use to measure it, and make your plan for getting on with attaining it. Focus on mission impact.

mission-envy-vs-mission-impact_Terry-Axelrod.jpgTerry Axelrod, Benevon
© 2013, Benevon. Reprinted with permission.

Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Benevon,, a Seattle-based organization that has trained and coached more than 4,000 nonprofits to build sustainable funding from individual donors.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice