Six Reasons Non-Profits Fail: Reason #6, Growth Becomes the Objective vs. Greatness

I have to admit that growth of any kind is a drug I find hard to resist.

Think about it.  If your child is growing, what is wrong with that?  If you are growing intellectually or emotionally, it really isn’t something to criticize or depreciate.  If your personal compensation is growing or you have a growing group of friends, why would you turn from that path?  If a city or company is growing, doesn’t it mean that all is well?

Growth is good.  Growth shows progress.  Growth means we are doing things right.

Doesn’t it?

Sometimes.

I sat in a meeting in the office of very respected well run non-profit in which all the leader could talk about was growth.  Here is some of the language he used:

  • “We need to double our revenue in the next three years.”
  • “Our supporting public will know we are successful by the growth we have achieved.”
  • “Our board is very pleased with the progress we have made in revenue growth.”

Nothing wrong with those statements.  Nope.

EXCEPT…. where are the people the non-profit is serving?  Where is the cause the donors are giving to?  Where is the passion for the need the non-profit is organized to address?

“Oh, come on, Richard,” you might be saying.  “You are taking the statements out of context.  Certainly the person said more than that?”

No, he didn’t.

The whole tone of the entire discourse was on growth, revenue and organizational success.  There was not a peep about the people or the cause.

And it revealed the heart of the leader and his board.

This person’s heart was about himself, his fame, his standing, his achievements.  It was not about anything else.  It’s a pretty sad state to be in.  But I’m sure it feels good for a season.

I hear this kind of thing as the opening line in a conversation when two leaders meet at a conference.  First, it’s the perfunctory,  “Hi, Ralph, how are you doing?”  Then it goes something like this:  “Doing great! Revenue is holding steady.  Tough times aren’t they?  How are you doing?”

Wouldn’t it be great if, after the “How are you doing” question, the response was,  “Doing great! We helped 1500 more people last month!”

Or,  “Fantastic!  We have successfully stopped the spread of X disease!”

Or,  “Couldn’t be doing better!  In the last six months I’ve gone through a process in which I have learned to listen more to my employees, my spouse and my board colleagues.  Really good stuff!  It’s changed my life!”

Or,  “You know, this has been an interesting time for me.  Things are not going well on the revenue front. I’m beginning to think that the direction I set is wrong – the giving public is voting on it with their wallets.  Perhaps it is time for me to step aside.”

These are real statements about real things and not about standing or personal prominence and success.

I like what Sherman Finesilver, a former federal judge, said about this topic:

“Do not confuse notoriety and fame with greatness. . . . For you see, greatness is a measure of one’s spirit, not a result of one’s rank in human affairs.” 

The measure of one’s spirit.

Hmmmm.  Not very sexy.  Hard to put THAT on a resume.  But it IS about greatness and true character.

When an organization, it’s leaders, managers, board and employees get hooked on the growth drug and move away from the heart of the matter, there is trouble ahead.  It is a fatal infection of the spirit and mind that will cause ruin and ultimate failure in a non-profit.  It is where we serve ourselves and others and forget about being truly great.

I want to be clear that I am not against growth.  What I am saying is that the path to true greatness is service.  Service to humankind.  Service to those we hold close and love.  Service even to those we do not like.  That is the path toward greatness.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” Robert Kennedy

Think of how this attitude and approach could revolutionize the work you do:

  • You move from getting the money to helping donors achieve greatness through their giving.
  • You move from competing with your colleagues to helping them become great.
  • You move from laboring under the authority of your boss to helping him or her become successful.
  • You influence your environment to focus first on the people or cause you serve vs. the money or growth.
  • You continue to maintain this attitude while being a top performer yourself.

This is all about attitude, spirit, focus and approach.  It is about character and things of real value.  It is about what matters.

In fact, if you look back through this series on the Six Reasons Non-Profits Fail, you can see one common theme in every reason for failure in a non-profit.  It is a focus on self vs. others.

When leaders, managers and employees of a non-profit become self-absorbed, both individually and in the aggregate, their expression of service in program, relationship, getting work done, impact and being effective and great moves toward self-service.  And when that happens, failure is just around the corner.

Become an agent of change in this area.  Start with yourself by pledging to be a person of service to others.  Then, begin to quietly influence those around you, carefully and sensitively calling them to greatness.

Richard

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About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Philanthopy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Six Reasons Non-Profits Fail: Reason #6, Growth Becomes the Objective vs. Greatness

  1. L.V. Spencer says:

    Thank you for sharing these insights and keeping our focus on the objective.

  2. Olivia says:

    Thanks for an inspirational post. In fact, I printed out “The path to true greatness is service,” and stuck it on the bottom of my screen as a constant reminder.

  3. Richard Perry says:

    Thank you, Olivia. Good call and action because it IS true.

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