Get Sooty With It

The Sooty Shearwater is the most focused animal on the planet. This New Zealand bird flies up to 74,000 kilometers on its yearly migration, averaging more than 500 kms per day. During this largely solo annual migration, the Sooty Shearwater has many distractions and temptations to overcome in order to reach its incredible goal (the North Pacific). There’s mouth-watering food along the way, potential mates, and many other possible distractions on the path of their yearly destiny.

I recently had lunch with the Executive Director of a nonprofit that has a phenomenal reputation. Let’s call it the Sooty Shearwater Org (or Sooty for short). Sooty is known for its unwavering commitment to fidelity, its ability to produce results and change people’s lives for the better, and its use of data and evaluation to help inform programmatic improvements. In fact, Sooty is so widely respected that it regularly receives requests to take on other programs. Almost every time, the answer is the same: “No, but thank you for considering us. We still haven’t reached our vision.”

This is pretty atypical in the nonprofit sector. Too often, organizations want to do more good, and so they add more programs to their portfolio. They aim to serve their clients in different manners. The organizations stretch themselves beyond their capacity. Sometimes, they are chasing dollars, but this is not always the case. It is simply, and unfortunately, “mission creep” – with the very best of intentions.

Imagine if all organizations were as focused as Sooty. I imagine that we would solve more social issues because there would be fewer distractions. Additional resources in the sense of time and energy would be devoted to an organization’s mission. Nonprofits would get along better because they wouldn’t be worried that another organization was going to try and duplicate programs, and thus increase the competition for limited funds. So much more would get done, and more people would be served. Isn’t that what we should be striving for??

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