Nonprofit Mission Creep: How to Avoid It

The first step in organizing a nonprofit is identifying the mission. Keeping an organization true to that mission is one of the most challenging, important tasks management faces.

Mission- the charitable purpose identified as the core func­tion of an organization – informs and influences every action and decision of a nonprofit. The mission statement must simultaneously be focused, forward-thinking and flexible.

Mission creep occurs when an organization takes on new activities that lie outside of the core purpose. As efforts and resources gradually flow in that direction, outcomes shift.

The temptation for mission creep usually comes when fund­ing is tight. A new opportunity presents itself, and the nonprofit finds itself following the money. It might involve new constituencies, programs or geographic locations. Mission creep differs from planned growth and development because it pulls attention from central functions and dilutes impact. Staff mem­bers find themselves confused and conflicted.

The first safeguard is to have the right mission statement, which should be reviewed every five years or so, as part of a strategic planning process. It’s important to create a statement that is achievable and provides clear parameters.

Reining in efforts that are spread too thin can deepen impact and strengthen the organization. Providing a clear picture of purpose and goals will engage stakeholders, donors, clients and staff. Keep the mission statement succinct so people remember it.

To stay focused and guard against mission creep, a process to evaluate new program and service opportunities can be useful.

The following five-point process, first used in the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center, can also be used as a format to evaluate new opportunities.

*Mission – The first step is to review the proposed project in light of the mission. Does it fall within the mission? Will it create positive impact for clients? Is it a logical fit for existing  programs? Define the project as thoroughly as possible, including scope, timeline and deliverables.

*Partnerships – Partners, whether funders, stakeholders, agencies, universities or peer organizations, are essential to suc­cess. They bring opportunity, diverse skill sets, credibility and complementary activities. Evaluate the project in light of your partnerships, both those already involved and possible new ones. Will the project strengthen or erode partnerships?

*Funding – Develop a budget for the project. Will more staff be needed? Where will funding come from? Consider sustain­ability i.e., keeping the project going once initial funding is gone. Be wary of hidden administrative and management costs. Each new project costs in time and money. The net gain should be positive. If it isn’t, but the project is impossible to refuse, at least the decision can be made understanding the true cost.

*Organizational impact – Identify organizational resources needed to implement the project. Does existing staff have time or will new people be needed? Does the staff have the interest and expertise needed? Evaluate the proposed project in terms of developmental goals. Is it the direction the organization wants to go? Is it innovative? How will it position the organization among peers and with the board and funding sources.

*Communication and implementation – Implementing a new project requires communication – among staff, to clients and with partners. Evaluate the communication strategy and commitment needed to make the project a success. Will the organization be able to adequately handle these issues?

Each organization should identify its own criteria for project acceptance, study or rejection. By creating a process with the mission in mind, projects with the best fit will be easily identified.

Davis & Hodgdon Associates CPAs has been assisting nonprofits, individuals and businesses with tax and accounting services in the Burlington Vermont Metro area for more than 20 years. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to call 802.878.1963 or email [email protected].

Similar Posts