How Long Will Your Organization Be Relevant?

Posted: July 2, 2015

253614_jsin712_hiDoes that sound like a worrisome question? I’m not trying to create anxiety. But if you caught my last blog, you know that asking questions is one of the chief ways I get information – and that I encourage nonprofits to do the same. Among the questions I believe should be asked, and often, is what an organization is doing to ensure it remains relevant as needs, resources and times change.

One answer, based on some fascinating reading I did recently, is to be aware of where your organization is located – not literally, but from the standpoint of how you think, plan and measure success. Consider the contrast between resting in the foothills and reaching for the mountaintop.  That’s the premise of an intriguing piece titled “Living in the Foothills” from DonorVoice.  Perhaps residing in the Hudson Valley gives that symbolism special meaning for me. Still, every organization should know where it’s dwelling – and whether it needs to be on the move.

Low Altitude Living

Location as a metaphor really plays out in how an organization operates. Nonprofits in the foothills stay tucked inside a zone of comfort and safety. They stick with the tried and true, making choices and decisions that are more consistent with yesterday than tomorrow, replacing one idea with another that’s essentially the same, overlooking new blood to keep tired blood on a board. Let’s be honest: couldn’t we all name a nonprofit like this? When it comes to fundraising, foothill organizations typically hold events and hope for the best, rather than working to build relationships as the key to developing recurring donors.

By comparison, organizations at higher elevations see the world with a broader view. They’re serious about strategy and more willing to take risks. No surprise – they wouldn’t be on the mountain if they weren’t. They’re more open to ideas and solutions from outside the organization, more flexible, less accepting of the status quo.

Big Picture Perspective

Certainly it’s risky to climb a mountain. It’s a lot safer at the bottom than the top. Personally, I don’t have a particular passion for a mountain vista. In fact, in my free time my obsession is digging in my garden, not hiking mountain trails. But in my professional view, recognizing the difference between an organization cradled in the foothills and one headed for its own Everest is critical. It’s ironic, but the nonprofit intent on reaching the summit has a better chance of long-term survival.

That big picture perspective is vital. A nonprofit has to be able to see past, present and future. It has to get out into the wind to know from which direction change is coming. Organizations need to be bold and able to adapt. That’s what keeps a nonprofit relevant to those it serves, to its donors and to its mission.


Concerned your organization could be stuck in the foothills? Let’s talk.