Can This Nonprofit Be Saved?

 

Sequestration: at this point, the word induces a kind of weary shudder. It’s a lot of things, but most of all, it’s depressing — just more evidence, if we needed more, that as a country we’re barely capable of governing ourselves. At Youth Catalytics, we specialize in helping nonprofits get better at what they do. We work with many relatively healthy agencies that want to tweak their processes to get even better. But no question about it, some have fallen into dysfunction and must improve in order to maintain their funding and compete with others doing similar work. As the premier nonprofit of the land, our government doesn’t have any rivals, and therein certainly lies some of the problem. But since there’s no obvious remedy for that, we need to look elsewhere if we want to help, since, by any objective outcomes formula (including those included in every federal RFP), the system appears to be under-performing. So what would a timely assist look like?

We might want to start with an appreciative inquiry process, whereby we encourage staff and administration to cast their minds back to a time when things were going well. How did that look, and how was it achieved? For such a large system, we might want to adapt the concept of positive deviance, where we look for the few outlying areas of high achievement and ask what folks in those places are doing differently. We’d certainly want to conduct a mission review and adjustment process, because our sense is there’s disagreement among the principals on this issue. We can safely say that some accelerated fund development would be in order, along with new strategic planning, since the old plan (whatever that was) seems to have completely collapsed.

Here are some additional, admittedly harsh, thoughts from nonprofit professionals we queried on Linked In: One wrote, “Fire them all for malfeasance and start over with newly ‘hired’ (elected) replacements.” Another agreed, writing, “When a board starts to look at the nonprofit as their own private organization, a change in board culture and membership should be considered.” And still another, coming from a special perspective, said: “When I served in the House, I was told our pay was based on the ‘fact’ we were ‘professionals.’ If members of government are truly professionals, they should each have a degree in Public Administration, in my opinion. Otherwise they are overpaid and many are not fit to serve.”

We’re not necesssarily recommending any of these draconian steps, of course. As professionally neutral observers, we’re just suggesting that the government undertake some proven program of organizational self-examination and improvement. Right away. And, ahem, I should add that, as members of a hopeful and somewhat alarmed citizenry, we stand ready to answer the call.

~ Research Director Melanie Wilson

Since writing this we received a dozen more responses from Linked In contacts. This, from Terry Murray, is one of the more interesting:

Until we address this, http://danariely.com/2013/03/09/wealth-inequality-in-motion/, nothing will change. The fact is, the government is working on behalf of interests other than the citizenry. From the perspective of the government’s
true employer, they’re hitting their metrics.

And this, from Anthony Day:

… We all admit that it”s hard with the power of the incumbency. So then we go to methods of changing the behavior of the current people. We can use sticks — create rules to require better behavior, remove the people, etc. We can use carrots — some sort of incentive to encourage more working together. That’s hard because our elected officials have so many perks already. Or finally, we can inspire people to work together. That takes two things — leadership which I already talked about. The second thing is vision, shared values and shared goals. Leaders establish (with input of key organizational members) those items. There is a severe lack of vision, shared values and shared goals in Washington. Until either the people or the leaders create a vision, restore our founding values, and establish goals that the organization can strive for, there is no framework to find common ground.

Personally, I’d like to explore the concept of ‘founding values.’ There’s often a good deal of ideological bombast tucked into those two words. I know a fair amount about American history, and partiuclarly the sentiments of the founding fathers. When we speak about ‘values,’ we have to recognize that one of the things they valued most was expediency — getting a statement of principles down on paper, fast, that would be generally acceptable to the majority and see the country through its transition. None assumed they were writing a political Bible for the ages, or that they themselves would come to be seen as oracles to be consulted in every far-future social and political debate.  ~ MW

 

 

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