What’s on Your “Stop Doing” List?

Phil Buchanan’s opinion piece in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (“In search of the Magic Formula for Philanthropy”) caught my eye. He says, “You can’t flip through more than a few pages [of philanthropic journals] without finding an article with the words ‘foundations should’ or ‘philanthropists should.’”

I am guilty as charged.

Looking back on many of my blog posts, I make a lot of those types of statements. But I truly believe them. The power dynamic is one in which foundations have more resources and thus more influence. So they’re in a much better position to do things that nonprofits don’t have the capacity to do.

I read on. Buchanan makes a lot of great arguments in his article, such as the fear of foundations to take risks; the need for staff in order for foundations to do their work effectively; and the focus required in order for a foundation to make the impact it is seeking.

But my favorite part is when Buchanan cites Jim Collins who implored his audiences to “stop focusing on their ‘to do’ lists and start focusing on their ‘stop doing’ lists.” It reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a potential client. When I asked him how he would define success for a strategic planning project, he said, “We currently operate over 60 programs – either directly or indirectly through partners. We need to stop doing some things. We need to focus on what we’re good at, and continue to build our skills in those areas. And we need to do that even if the outcome results in a loss of funding.”

It’s not often that you hear a nonprofit say that they are going to stop doing something. But it’s smart business. It’s hard to say no when there is so much need. It’s hard to say no when funders are dangling money in front of you, especially if you are more than willing to accept just a bit of “mission creep.” But your work will be so much better, and your team will be happier, and your consumers will be better served, if you take a bit of time to add a few items to your “stop doing” list…and then actually stop doing them! I’m going to go create my list now!

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