How The Nonprofit Association Program Pie Is Sliced

Pizza Finished

Most nonprofit associations find it difficult to abandon anything.

Everything is a cause or “God’s work.”

Yet performance and results are extremely important and often difficult to measure and control.

Moral Versus Economic Causes

A moral cause is an absolute good.

For example, some religious leaders have been preaching against sex outside of marriage for years. Results have been small, if any at all. In these leaders’ minds, the absence of results proves that they just have to increase their efforts. This is the essence of a moral cause.

An economic cause asks: Is this the best application of our scarce resources. There is much work to be done. Let’s put our resources where we can achieve results. We cannot afford to be honorable and continue this project where we seem to be unable to achieve results.

To believe that whatever we do is a moral cause, and should be pursued whether there are results or not, is a constant temptation for nonprofit executives. It’s also an evasive lure for boards.

There are always more moral causes to be served than the nonprofit has resources. The nonprofit has a duty towards its members, donors and staff to allocate scarce resources for results rather than being morally upright.

Measuring Nonprofit Results

Nonprofits institutions exist to change attitudes, behaviors and actions. Ultimately, a nonprofit has to judge itself by its performance in creating vision, values, standards, commitment and human competence.

Yet measuring that change can be difficult.

Businesses usually define performance very narrowly as the financial bottom line. It’s specific and concrete. It’s obvious if you are meeting the goal. You can look at results in terms of profitability, market standing, innovation and cash flow. All easily quantifiable and hard to ignore.

Nonprofits don’t have it as easy as business when defining performance. There is the temptation to say, “We are serving a good cause. We are doing something that makes life better for people and that’s results in itself.”

To the nonprofits that fall into that temptation I say, “That is not enough!”

If a business wastes its resources on non-results, by and large it loses its own money. In the nonprofit world, it’s someone else’s money–the donor and members’ money. Nonprofits are accountable to their donors and members. They are accountable for putting their money where the results are and for performance.

Results Are Achieved By Concentration Not Splintering

Results for nonprofit are difficult to define. They are achieved by concentration on their primary mission.

The statement, “This is why we exist,” must eventually become “This is how we do it. This is the time it will take to do it. This is who is accountable. This is the work for which we are responsible. This is where we will focus.”

Organizations that try to provide something for everyone will eventually fracture. They have a savior mentality trying to be all things to all people. It doesn’t work. It just wastes valuable resources.

Shrinking Pies And The Fairness Issue

Yet nonprofit members and donors often get upset when pet projects and programs get dropped. They become a minor vocal group screaming that it’s not fair.

Is it a fairness issue?

When the pie is shrinking, people get nervous that their share is too small. When the pie grows, the aspiration comes back again to invest in niche groups.

In tough economic times, leaders have to make touch economic decisions. It’s especially challenging in a global economy when organizations must make tough choices about well-liked programs as budgets, sponsorships and memberships decline.

Yet if a piece of the pie is abandoned in light of the mission, is it the wrong thing to do?

What should an association provide to its donors and members to show how they are holding themselves accountable for results? How can an organization help its members and donors understand the bigger picture instead of their own agenda and pressing needs?

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