Why Not Director of Observation to Keep Mission in Sight?

Continuing The Conversation: August 2016

image 4I’ve been writing a lot about advocacy lately, and to a degree this blog is too. Though it’s more about advocating to ensure that every nonprofit sees clearly needs to be addressed and serves those who are truly in need.

I’m prompted by a recent conversation and some tweets that really got me thinking. Here’s what makes me look again at what nonprofits do and how they do it – and how we can do better, in particular here in the Hudson Valley.

Are We Seeing Needs Under Our Noses?

A colleague from my teaching days who has always been deeply passionate about helping children shared this recent experience. She was in a small grocery store in Hyde Park and noticed that one item was under lock and key. Tobacco? Alcohol? “Adult” reading?

Wrong on all counts. Baby formula. The manager explained that it was the item most stolen from the store.

Consider the degree of need. Enough parents are struggling to feed their infants that they’re stealing formula. And not from a megastore but from a local market.

So what does it imply about pertinent services? Are they missing? Is there more need than can be filled? Are that many struggling families unaware of available help?

My point is not to criticize anyone. It’s to spotlight what appears to be a significant problem in our area. There are enough hungry babies and desperate parents that a store is locking up formula. Within the nonprofit community, what do we know of this problem? And if we don’t know, how do we prevent such perilous oversights?

Elevating Mission Focus and Giving It a Name  

Which all leads to my second recent aha! It was in a series of tweets about unconventional nonprofit job titles. Pondering potentially overlooked needs and creative ways of thinking about organizational roles, perhaps a solution: Director of Observation.

Okay, that may test even the limits of “unconvention.” But stick with me as I explain my thinking. Keeping mission in focus is important for every nonprofit. At the same time, with many tasks to juggle within most nonprofits, it’s also a challenge. Yet baby formula under lock and key is a heartrending reminder that knowing what’s happening “on the outside” – and when a mission requires a critical adjustment – is essential.

Granted, your organization may not be one to address that specific need. Still, consider what is your mission – and what you may be missing. Why not make mission focus a role, and various ways to observe and assess part of it? That could be setting up a system of regular check-ins with community leaders in the know – say, those in local churches and synagogues, school administrators. It could be cooperating to share information among regional nonprofits with complementary missions.

Even if there’s no surge in Director of Observation as a nonprofit position, I encourage organizations to be serious about keeping mission in mind and making it an ongoing discussion: watching for new needs that fall within that mission and how to adjust services to address those needs. It’s what keeps nonprofits vibrant and relevant within their communities – and what makes whole communities healthy and strong.

Looking for help with mission focus? Let’s talk. To read those intriguing tweets, see my most recent Suggested by SJR resources.