Wake up call?

On the Information_Systems_Forum@yahoogroups there was this exchange as part of a longer thread on Management Approaches to Non-Profit Technology:

Dave Pentecost

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.

Deborah Elizabeth Finn

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?

1 thought on “Wake up call?

  1. Oh, goodness.

    This thread is *still* continuing over on ISF. Maybe I just haven’t absorbed the gestalt of that list.

    But when it gets down to “for profits just want to produce more widgets more cheaply” while nonprofits are concerned about the effectiveness of their services, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

    In IT, in particular, there’s the old model about the four knobs: features, cost, quality, timeframe and the fact that you can set three but not all four. That’s management’s job, isn’t it – in any environment? Figuring out what cost is acceptable to provide what service level. In the nonprofit the costs are typically covered by a community that is different from those benefiting from the services/products (with entrepreneurial exceptions like TROSA), but the tradeoffs are similar. Management needs to predict what level of income will be generated by the activity and ensure the organization’s sustainability with the accuracy of its predictions. The quality/timeframe come into the predictions.

    There’s another quote about those motivated by quality being unable to communicate with those motivated by quantity of output. I’ll see if I can find that because it, too, seems to be leading to this discussion being dragged on for quite awhile.

    And what’s this got to do with AAUW? Well, if you have to ask …

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