Europe’s failing vaccine rollout was the topic of yesterday morning’s New York Times newsletter. Apparently, distribution is much slower in the EU than in many other places and, as a result, cases of COVID-19 are continuing to surge.
But, don’t worry, this post isn’t about the vaccine or Europe. (you can get that story here) It is about the three reasons that Times editor, David Leonhardt, gives for the vaccine mess: too much bureaucracy, being penny-wise and pound foolish, and (vaccine) skepticism. And, I couldn’t help noticing how closely they parallel the reasons that so many nonprofits are a mess. Here's what I mean:
Too much bureaucracy - bureaucracy, by definition, involves lots of red tape and a preoccupation with hierarchical authority. Traditional nonprofit structures are mired in bureaucracy which often prevents them from being nimble enough to stay relevant to the ever-changing needs of their communities. What’s more, bureaucracy creates unnecessary work by adding steps to take and hoops to jump through in order to gain approval for decisions.
So, what’s a nonprofit to do? Examine the hierarchies and power structures at play in your organization in terms of productivity and ask yourself: how can we streamline our decision-making processes (while maintaining full integrity and accountability)? What steps or processes do we follow that are unnecessary vestiges of outdated business practices? Who needs to let go of a bit of power or control in order to make our organization more efficient?
Penny-wise and pound foolish - it’s no secret that nonprofits - whether pinched or flush - operate from a sense of scarcity, needfulness, and lack. While this mentality may help an organization appeal to would-be donors and sponsors, it does little to encourage growth and service-delivery impact over the long term. Those committed to unnecessarily scrimping and withholding in order to appear needy, will likely fail to invest properly in the infrastructures and support needed to do more good in the world. Being penny wise is an important practice for many hand-to-mouth organizations but it should not come at the expense of bigger-picture financial decisions.
So, what’s a nonprofit to do? Consider the roles that fear and lack play in your financial planning practices. Do you continuously underfund or ignore investments that will allow your organization to serve more/better? Do you miss opportunities because you haven’t made funds available/accessible for special projects? Does your organization’s aversion to spending keep you from making improvements that will help your overwhelmed staff?
Skepticism - uncertainty and lack of clarity keep people from joining or supporting organizations. If the mission, vision, values, service, and impact are not crystal clear and expressed in ways that inspire human connection, a gap is left between the organization and what a person would need to know in order to support it. A gap in information leaves space for doubt, doubt grows into skepticism, and skepticism - or lack of trust - leads to inaction. Organizations - especially those with small teams - rarely spend enough time and effort telling their stories in ways that build relationships, increase trust, and eliminate skepticism.
What’s an organization to do? Consider the ways you have - or haven’t - prioritized communication, marketing, and storytelling. Does your audience have a clear idea of the impact your organization makes and how they can support your mission? A community poll or survey will reveal gaps between the messages you think you’re delivering and what others actually hear and understand.
I don't have a thing to add about vaccine delivery in Europe but I can appreciate how this example of complication, short-sightedness, and mistrust derailing progress relates to the nonprofit condition.
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