Can A Mission-Driven Nonprofit Be Blindsided?

Can A Mission-Driven Nonprofit Be Blindsided?

By: Eugene Fram

Strange to say, a nonprofit organization and Board can become too dedicated to its mission! Such over-zealousness can cause them to overlook opportunities for strategic change. For example:

Nonprofit boards and their organizations offering mental heath counseling services are aware that new pharmaceutical therapies will certainly reduce the need for face-to-face counseling. They need to balance their current and long-term efforts to accommodate the progress that is being made in the pharmaceutical field.

The phenomenal success of the simultaneous broadcast as offered by the Metropolitan Opera has prompted the simulcast to begin to include Broadway theater productions. How will this expansion impact local the theater organization whose prime purpose is to import live Broadway touring shows? And to what extent are the local groups able to anticipate and plan for this new competition?

Travelers Aid’s original mission was to prove assistance to rail and bus travelers, now secondary travel venues. To keep current, the organization has adjusted its mission by offering a wide variety of social services, like homeless housing information, to clients in their local communities.

The following conditions can assist nonprofit boards and managements to be ready for the future:

• To develop farsighted business plans, nonprofit CEOs should have some backgrounds in accounting, marketing, branding, finance and strategic planning.
• One or more board members and the CEO need to be continually alert to global, national and local trends which may impact operations either positively or negatively. They should be able to apply these trends to the nonprofit’s current strategy and mission.
•The CEO needs to regularly present board reports on strategic changes being initiated by similar organizations and focus on those that are worth investigation.
• A board-staff committee, every several years, needs to answer the uncomfortable question, “What trends or organizations might impact the need for our mission and/or services?”
• The organization may occasionally employ a knowledgeable field consultant to critique the strategic posture of the organization.
• If the nonprofit is re-accredited, the board should meet with the visiting team’s to seek its views on what the organization should be doing to prepare for changes in the next three to five years.

Chinese admonition:“The wise man learns by his own experience, the wiser man learns by the experience of others.” Nonprofit boards and managements need to heed the Chinese admonition regularly to avoid being blindsided.


  1. I like most everything you have to say here except your hook. I think nonprofits are often blindsided, but rarely by over dedication to their mission. In fact, loosing site of mission (particularly by following the funds) leading to missional drift is a much more likely a serious issue than being focused to a fault.

    Knowing who you are and what you do is very important. Of course methods change to suite ever changing environments, and as you seem to be saying we need to be careful not to develop tunnel vision, or cling to outdated methods whose times have passed, But methods are only the means to missional ends.

    I have been critical of organizations like Travelers Aid who seem to have lost their moorings, sliding into generalist social services to the detriment of the original mission. I could be persuaded to change my opinion in this case if you can assure me that travelers no longer need aid in our airports train or bus stations and/or that the new Travelers Aid can provide these essential services better because of the change in mission. I think it’s better in most cases to reformulate, modernize, even shrink, rather than to abandon the mission as it seems Travelers aid has. As Shakespear put it; “This above all, To thine own self be true” (Yes I believe nonprofit corporations are persons and ought to be good corporate citizens.

    That does not mean your mission must never change. As conditions change we must look at what we’re doing to help, and what we could do. What resources we have and what resources we could develop. Public policy and where it is going, etc. This (and more) will create frequent adjustments to methods and programs and with far less frequency adjustments to the basic mission as well. In mental health and child welfare deinstitutionalization changed the way we think about the mentally ill and orphans. Missions changed. In education, On Line Education changed the way a significant segment of students learn. Missions change. In homeless services, the move toward “housing first” has caused providers to examine both their methods and their missions, Homeless Shelters, convinced that helping families find permanent housing trumps merely providing shelter, are looking at new models and perhaps altered missions!

    You have suggested, that the key to dealing effectively with change is found in good strategic planning. Again, this true, but only to a point. Current research reveals a flaw. According to a study in the Feb. issue of Social Cognition, planning is very good, but while making those plans concrete might help you achieve those goals it will also come at the cost of some flexibility. When you are blindsided, the flexibility to adapt is often your most valuable asset. Striking a balance between strategic plan and entrepreneurial flair then is the better course. (And I’m back beating an old drum about a strong entrepreneurial excutive director working with in tandemstrong yet adaptive Planning Board is the better course)


    1. Bro Herb: Thanks for your very thoughtful comment. I agree that: (And I’m back beating an old drum about a strong entrepreneurial excutive director working with in tandemstrong yet adaptive Planning Board is the better course) However I have relay seen this combination implemented. Please continue to send me your insightful observations. Thanks again.


  2. I am not sure about the Met Opera’s simulcasts of Broadway Plays, but its opera broadcasts have brought opera to many people who might be first time fans. If anything, it has enhanced attendance at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. I see many new and younger attendees. My only concern with the simulcasts would be if they detracted from the Saturday broadcasts, which have helped get me through many Saturday afternoons during my twenty-plus tax seasons.


    1. Jeff: I was not clear. Some Broadway shows have already been simulcast on their own, not by the Met. No many but enough that some friends have reported them. Best wishes for good listening this season.



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