Lead With Your Mission

By: Mark Belcher, Partner

How often have you decided to accept a gift from a donor that is designated for a “new” program?  Nearly every development office has faced this opportunity in a climate when every gift seems like a step closer towards achieving our development goals.

I recently heard that a very established organization was bequeathed one of the largest gifts in its history and that it intended to use this gift for the construction of a new museum.  When complete, this museum would house a collection of items that the same donor then would donate to the new museum.  On the surface, this appears to be a positive growth opportunity for a museum.

Here is the catch:  the organization isn’t in the museum business.  So what do you do?  Now you will need to hire new staff, to acquire new expertise, and you inevitably will face new expenses related to preservation and operations.  Was this really a gift or perhaps a curse?  I would suggest the latter.

Having a clear mission and defined strategy are arguably the most important components of any organization, particularly for those of us operating in the nonprofit space.  Every day we hear examples of museums, universities, schools, churches and even small nonprofit organizations being tempted to veer from their mission, vision, and strategy because a well-intentioned donor aspires to help them expand.

My advice to every Executive Director and Board first is to ask how does this gift enhance or support the organization’s mission and does it fit within its adopted strategy?  If the answer to the latter question is yes, then, by all means, actualize this gift.

On the other hand, if the answer is no, exercise good leadership and decline the gift.  Otherwise, the phenomenon known as mission creep may occur resulting in the decline of the organization.  Your donors and those who benefit from your mission depend on you to be around for the long haul, so it is imperative that you always, always, always lead with your mission.