Toughest part of this job

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I’ve been a nonprofit executive for 14 years now, first as a government relations director for a state-wide trade association (electric industry), now as the head of our Chamber of Commerce. I am forever frustrated with one function of this position.

Without question the executive action that causes me the most grief is when we have to say “no.” But what leads a nonprofit executive to say no might surprise you. (Well of course it’s lack of staff, time and money).

It’s easy to say no to ideas which cannot be afforded due to investment of time and resources.

  • “We really don’t have enough staff to tackle that project”
  • “We didn’t budget for that piece of equipment this year”
  • “I doubt we could accomplish that event given the time allotted”

Those “no’s” are easy. The hardest “no’s” to administer are related to projects, ideas, and events that fall outside your organization’s mission, but still have merit. I worked in state government for a time, and it just pained me to hear a fellow worker say, “It’s not my job.” Bureaucratic babble. Human beings, people, can make individual split decisions and choices to help or hinder, to fix or forget.

In the organizational world however, saying yes to things outside your direct mission can be costly. We call that organizational mission creep.

The danger of organizational creep is it will sneak up like a stealth bomber. Innocent ideas, great projects, and awesome events sound great in a meeting or at the bar. But OMC (Organizational Mission Creep) can cause good staff to leave, budgets to burst and help executives to be “transitioned” (fired). The company may look really busy, but if what you’re doing doesn’t fall into your mission, does that make it right? It is the CEO’s job to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Here’s a good article from about.com looking at key ways to avoid mission creep. I have to keep reminding myself, my staffImage result for organizational mission and our volunteer leaders that just because it sounds great or it worked last time, doesn’t mean it’s part of our core mission. Frances Hesselbein, head of the Girl Scouts during its major growth period asks the best question, one that I ask daily.

If we do this, will it further the mission?

Good ideas, great projects, exciting new ventures, and important community contributions can get left in file folders and on Evernote screens because the idea may not fall into direct mission of your organization. For a growing Chamber in the fastest growing City in the US, that is gut-wrenching.

However, saying no to something that may cause mission creep, as tough as it is, might be the most important decision you make today.

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