On the Information_Systems_Forum@yahoogroups there was this exchange as part of a longer thread on Management Approaches to Non-Profit Technology:
I’m sure that there are non-profits which are inefficient and wasteful, endangering their mission. But I would weigh in on the idea that many non-profits also run on intangibles – an inspiring leader, a savvy development person. From bitter experience I can say that when the business experts (often on the board of directors) decide that it is time to make the organization more serious and efficient, that organization runs a great risk of losing its way.
This seems to happen around the 10-year mark in an organization’s history. Board members who previously thought “what a lovely little organization I’m part of” suddenly decide they know more about non-profit management and service than the people who created it.
Having survived a year in which the efficiency experts and their proxies failed to raise any funds (you must have good ideas and know your constituents and funders, things the business people may lack) and exhausted reserves. Only the nerve and dedication of the founders pulled things back on track.
To that I would add, “and pick your battles carefully.”
I dislike being a defeatist, but sometimes an organization is so badly broken that it can’t be fixed by one nonprofit techie. In that case, it’s a heartbreaking waste of time, effort, and talent to hang in there hoping you can realize your vision for the organization.
Unfortunately, the same virtues that draw people into mission-based organizations can the ones that impel them stay in dysfunctional situations rather than moving on.
As the poet said (in a very different context), it’s an “expense of spirit in a waste of shame.”
Are my ears burning?