Sunday, April 03, 2011

Is Your Nonprofit Organization Operating In Order to Close Upon Its Mission's Completion?

Nonprofits are in the business of getting out of business.  Ideally, for each cause, issue, concern, or need that a given nonprofit works to solve; the end comes and the issue is eradicated.

Stephanie Strom wrote Mission accomplished, nonprofits close up shop for the New York Times, April 1, 2011.  It is no April Fool's joke.  To quote,

"A few nonprofit groups have recently announced plans to wind down, not over financial problems but because their missions are nearly finished.

"Most notable, perhaps, is Malaria No More, a popular nonprofit that supplies bed nets in malaria zones. Its goal is to end deaths from malaria, a target it sees fast approaching.

"The charity has announced plans to close in 2015, but it is keeping its options open in the unlikely event that advances against malaria are reversed."

It may seem a strange way to operate any kind of organization, including a nonprofit.  It might even seem odd to launch or be a leader of an organization that eventually may complete its mission and end its own work for just that reason.  Perhaps it even seems 'pie in the sky'.  Yet, of course, it happens.

Is the end-goal of every nonprofit to achieve its mission statement's goals?  No.  Is this not being the case a function of some demonstrated need that will never be entirely met but can be more met than not, so the organization is always necessary?  Is a nonprofit that does not observe a conceivable completion of its organization's mission presuming that the issue that causes the need it addresses can not be ended?  Has the nonprofit's leadership never imagined its work might someday no longer be needed (for good reasons, such as the discovery of the cure for cancer, the end of child malnutrition, etc.)?  Or, is it difficult to even think about the organization having an end because its end would be personally difficult for the organization's leadership (for whatever reason: self-identity, income, ego, etc. or all of the above).

Looking at the nonprofit that yo work with, was the organization's eventual end (meaning, the organization eventually closing because its mission statement's goals have all been achieved) written into the business plan of the nonprofit when it was being formed?  Is it a core value of the organization, among its leadership, volunteers, and staff?  If not, why not?

The answer is perhaps not as important as simply asking the question.  No person likes to think that there is a finite-ness to an effort their making, especially when that effort is to better or improve our communities.  No one wants to imagine that the organization that they volunteer for or perhaps work for is going to become obsolete (even if for good reasons), some day.  It's not that we're a bunch of selfish people, but rather, its natural to hope to be able to further one's achievements (which are also the organization's achievements (successes, accolades, and improvements).  Yet, who among us wouldn't like to see the end of cancer or any type of suffering, harm, or difficulty?  Where do the answers to these questions leave the nonprofit organizations that you and I each work for?  In other words, what impact is our needs as individual people placing onto the organizations we volunteer with or work for?

By virtue of nonprofits being in business to provide some service, product, or program that is needed but not yet being provided (or is not accessible); there is that other side of working on issues, causes, or community challenges.  The other side of nonprofit work is that someday each of our organization's mission statement's goals will be achieved, ideally.  So...what then?

No nonprofit should start itself up assuming anything is easily solved or fixed, that can't be.  This goes without saying.  Yet, should nonprofits operate without their leadership truly taking stock of where the organization is in its (realistic) potential total life time (or amount of time it will realistically exist (be needed))?

The New York Times article ends with Malaria No More's leadership, vice chairman, Scott Case, admitting that with the end of their organization on the horizon his number one concern is getting the organization's staff new professional jobs.  The irony is not lost on him.  He and the staff (among others) have created an amazing accomplishment for people who were facing malaria and its devastation. They achieved their success so well, that now the very people who successfully helped are about to need help, themselves.

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