Disclaimer: None of the organizations with whom I currently work or are associated with fall into this category. I am a clear proponent of making sure that they do not fall away from the mission and always clarify decisions that we make. The following is a culmination of my experience being involved with lots of non-profits, private agencies, educational institutions, and churches. Any reference to any particular agency or situation is unintentional.
Most organizations are initially formed to fulfill a mission. Whether it be an adoption agency who seeks to find homes for children who wait, a church who intends to make disciples of Jesus Christ or an educational institution desiring to provide a holistic education that deals with mind, body and spirit, the initial idea is a good one. Even government institutions have a mission. That is why they are formed.
As an organization develops, grows, and changes, there comes a time when a shift, which experts are now calling a "missions shift" or "missional drift," takes place. The needs of the organization become more pressing than the needs of those it serves, and the mission becomes self-preservation. I have been pondering this shift recently, and have developed five questions that we can all ask ourselves about the organizations in which we are involved that will help us to see whether or mission remains what it was when the organization was begun or if self-preservation has, without anyone noticing, become the mission.
1. Are there more conversations taking place about the organization itself (its employees, finances, and future prospects) than about the clients, members, or others served? Pay attention to the kind of formal and informal conversations within the walls of the office. Do they revolve around the mission and the people being served or on how to pay bills, how to advance the organization, how to increase the visibility and popularity of the organization or its leader, or how to get the next big grant?
2. Are decisions about who to hire made on missional compatibility? Too often, a desire to propel the agency further may lead people to hire those who have a big name regardless of whether or not it is a missional match. Connections to the right people becomes more important than the embrace of the same ideals.
3. Are decisions consistently being made based on money? In many non-profits seeking grant dollars, how things are done and what happens next is determined by the next RFP or the next granting opportunity. In some instances this can enhance the mission, but in many situations it dilutes it instead. Other examples of making decisions based on finances include serving "marginal clients" because they can pay, adding programs that don't fit the mission because they allow for the charging of fees, or becoming focused on development more than on programming.
4. Are individuals in the organization becoming territorial? How much time is spent monitoring others to make sure that there are no competitors for an upcoming grant? Are employees so busy worrying about the competition that they can't get their jobs done? Are employees seeing invitations to collaborate as threats and walking away from opportunities to further the mission because it might eventually cost the organization a contract?
5. How much time each day is spent feeling and reminding one another of the initial passion and energy that founded the organization? Is there any of that passion left amongst current employees? What will it take to renew that sense of urgency and passion amongst employees, board members, and constituents?
The Church was founded over 2000 years ago. Denominations have been around for centuries. Some individual congregations have been around for over 200 or more years. Many colleges and universities in our country have been around for at least two centuries. And a majority of organizations and non-profits have moved beyond their initial founders and on to next generation.
Because we are years removed from our origins, it's imperative for all of us to take a good solid look at the places where we work and worship. We need to ask ourselves the above questions and push ourselves away from the lull of self-preservation and back to the passion and mission-driven work upon which our schools, churches and organizations were formed.
Ask yourself this: Do you really want to dedicate your time, energy and money for the preservation of an organization, or do you want to be part of a thriving mission-driven entity that changes the world?