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Four Hard Truths About Stagnant Nonprofit Organizations

We're not moving the needle.

We can’t seem to get out of our own way.

I'm just not seeing any progress.

We're not having an impact. 

I'm just spinning my wheels.


Sound familiar?

No matter which way you say it, the story is the same: you’re working hard (perhaps harder than ever) but not creating a measurable result with your nonprofit. Maybe you and your team get lots of work done but still can’t seem to move the mission forward in a way that truly makes a difference. 


So, what gives?

Here are 4 possible - and highly probable - reasons you can’t get your organization out of park:


You and/or your organizational culture are addicted to “the way we’ve always done it”. Look, nobody wants to admit that they’re trapped by old patterns and ways of thinking about problems - but when you take an honest look at the decision making processes baked into your organization, I promise that you will find “the way we’ve always done it” at play. Even when it comes to considering change in general, “the way we’ve always done it” will show up in the form of a slew of reasons why the new thing won’t work. And you know the old saying, “keep doing what you’ve always done and you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.” The only way to get better results is to try better ways of operating...and staying vigilant against the way things have always been done. 


You’re trying to be everything to everyone. I get it, your organization was created to serve. You want to do the very best you can for your community and help as many people/animals/souls/etc. as possible (an admirable attitude) and somewhere along the way you started overlooking capacity in favor of ubiquity.  But, as every maxed-out, burned-out team can attest, earnestness is the enemy of effectiveness when it comes to creating an impact. You can truly drive yourself crazy not making a difference. 


You don’t have enough influence or buy-in to get the job done. A tough pill to swallow, sorry. If you’re having trouble getting others to get on board, to be meaningfully engaged, and to help you make real progress, it’s time to examine how you’re positioned professionally and whether or not you have enough influence to affect real change. Do you have a voice or are you simply a mouthpiece? Are you casting a vision or are you too busy toiling away at the mission? Increasing your influence - formally and operationally - is critical to your ability to move your organization forward (or, through hard times). 


You need to clean house. Examine your board and staff and determine if you have the right people enlisted to do the things that actually need to be done. Also, do your board members have appropriate term limits? A stagnant organization is often the product of a stale board.  No matter how beloved or powerful your longtime board members, everyone must move on. A pivotal aspect of effective board management is helping the right people engage, and the wrong people exit


The truth about why you can't move forward, despite your best efforts, might be hard to accept. Especially when you consider that many of these concepts are tightly woven into the fabric of our organizations and ourselves. But confronting the TRUE source of your stagnation is the key to letting go and moving on. 




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