Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Should Your Nonprofit Exist Forever?

Two stories in the past couple weeks have reminded me of this interesting discussion. One was by Nancy Lublin, the serial nonprofit founder and leader who now leads Do Something and writes a regular column for a BUSINESS magazine. In the latest edition of Fast Company www.FastCompany.com, Ms Lublin advocates for organizations that address their issue and then celebrate and close. She shares some examples of organizations that she feels have not served the charity world well by allowing their mission to expand and lose focus after they essentially solved the problem they were created to address. Why Charities Should Have an Expiration Date.

On a somewhat related note, a recent edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy www.Philathropy.com featured a story on two nonprofits that were created with limited lifetimes of 10 years or so. The leaders of those organizations emphasize the energy and momentum that can be created by a deadline, and the impact it has in motivating funders and donors, increasing collaboration, and reducing perceived competition with other nonprofits. Charities With an Expiration Date Hurry to Make a Lasting Mark.

I think this is a particularly interesting conversation because so many nonprofits have set very broad, aspirational goals that they know they can never actually achieve themselves. Should our goal be to make a meaningful difference in a burst of activity and impact to move the issue forward or settle for struggling along for an extended period of time wondering if we are truly making a difference? I suspect there is a broad spectrum of possibilities and every organization and cause will fit a different place. By their nature, some organizations are designed to exist to serve a need or audience indefinitely while others are more a project or idea that comes to life and then struggles to perpetuate itself - which are you?


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