When Was the Last Time You Said No?

Last month I was invited to sit in on a strategic planning session for a nonprofit that was trying to figure out its future plan. (I must admit, it was nice to be a participant and not a facilitator, for once!)

As expected, we started by identifying the organization’s strengths (they had a lot!) and weaknesses (not so many!). We talked about market opportunities and gaps in the industry that the organization could fill. It was an exciting discussion. The need in their field is great, and there is a lot that this strong organization can do.

But then we started talking about the organization’s multitude of programs. They were doing a lot – and they could provide substantial data to demonstrate their success. They were making progress in ending their social issue in a lot of different ways. Then I asked if they could make even greater progress if they were more focused and narrowed their programs.

Their answer was not atypical for a nonprofit organization. Their funders were asking them to do different things, and that is how they had evolved into offering so many different programs. They were chasing the money.

I asked them, “What would be the worst case scenario if you told your funder that you wanted to focus on a different program?”

Their response: “The funder would probably walk away.”

Me: “And would that be so bad? Yes, I understand the staffing implications. But it also opens up the possibility that you can be a bit more focused on doing what you do well and make real progress towards achieving your goal.”

Them: “We’ll think about it.”

They did think about it. They called one of their funders last week and thoughtfully explained what they were trying to do. And the funder responded positively.

Now that won’t always happen. But sometimes it’s worth considering that your organization might be better off if you walk away from funding that really doesn’t help you achieve your mission.

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