It’s exciting to witness and participate in healthy growth when it’s healthy and well-managed. But when growth is premature or haphazard, it’s easy for the organization to find itself trapped in quicksand.
Quicksand is treacherous because you’re in it before your know it, and the more you struggle to get out, the deeper you sink. Don’t step into the following pool of quicksand that have victimized so many unsuspecting service organizations:
Quicksand pool #1: Running your organization like a corporation.
Business corporations are run by performance-oriented executives who strive to maximize market share through catering to consumers. Corporations are organized around departments that aggressively compete for budgets and resources, and employees are hired and fired on the basis of pulling their own weight. The bottom line is performance.
Some non-profit organizations unwittingly follow this corporate model, often times as the result of high-powered business professionals on the board and key committees. They do what comes naturally in the way they run the organization, such as hiring (and firing!) hard-charging staff; imposing ambitious growth goals for the “4B’s” (budgets, buildings, backers, and bucks), and aggressively marketing organization programs (“the product line”) to clients.
Like corporations, many “super non-profit organizations” have multi-million dollar budgets, high paid (“CEO”) directors, and an elaborate bureaucracy of committees, programs, budgets, and personnel. Even though super organizations aren’t profit-oriented, they are none-the-less a big business. Staff members must recognize the crucial difference between running the organization as though it were a business versus running things in a business-like manner.
Quicksand Pool #2: Defining growth strictly in statistical and numerical terms.
Most organizations expend great energy keeping meticulous statistical records on everything from attendance, to gifts, financial contributors, and who attended committee meetings. But how much time and attention are given to fervent service to clients? This qualitative factor must be the highest priority for growth. Having an up-trending growth line on the statistical chart is great, unless it tempts leaders to smugly conclude, “See what a great job we’re doing!”
Quicksand Pool #3: Viewing other community service organization (and churches) as competitors and rivals.
Why don’t more organizations, especially non-profit organizations engage in mutually advantageous service partnerships? Why isn’t there more interaction between different non-profit organizations? Why aren’t expensive facilities and scarce assets shared to a greater extent?
In keeping with our individualistic culture, most non-profit organizations operate out of an isolationist mindset bent of self-sufficiency. Leaders are rarely eager to share facilities or cooperate in joint ventures because of control issues. When presented the opportunity to pool resources with another non-profit organizations, many potential service partnerships can’t get beyond purely mundane matters, such as how to divide up the budget. Many would probably agree with the pessimist assessment that, “People in my organization have a hard enough time getting along with one another without trying to harmonize with another organization!”
Quicksand Pool #4: Expanding staff or facilities to artificially stimulate organization growth.
Adding staff or facilities gives the organizational “rocket” a larger launching pad, but real growth occurs only when people are better served. Done for the right reasons, expansion creates a more comfortable “shoe” to accommodate the organization’s larger “foot.” But done for the wrong reasons, expansion can foster a climate of distrust and burden the organization with debt. Some organizations have been guilty of pushing for expanded facilities as a (thinly disguised) political tactic calculated to pressure financial donors into giving more money, or perhaps to placate a disgruntled faction on the board.
Quicksand Pool #5: Promoting congregational homogeneity to sustain growth.
Many non-profit organizations subscribe to the theory that since birds of a feather flock together, they might as well go after more from the same flock. People with much in common do indeed flock together, but they don’t attract many from other flocks. Over time, the homogeneous service organization tends to stagnate, turning into a Dead Sea of ideas and initiatives. It becomes its own worse enemy, like an ingrown toenail, when it runs out of room to grow. By contrast, diverse non-profit organizations attract a broader and deeper constituency (members from different ethnic groups, socioeconomic backgrounds, and professional levels) with a richer future growth potential. Diverse organizations generate a hotbed of new ideas, initiatives, and energy.
Quicksand #6: Desiring comfortable growth.
Organizations, like people, are easily spoiled by success: the “comfy” facilities, accommodating staff team, well-managed programs, and high visibility in the community. But new members may assume that everything comes easily in such a successful organization, so there isn’t much of a need for them to volunteer or contribute financially.
In comfortable organizations, growth is seen as automatic—a given—and hence taken for granted. The prevailing sentiment seems to be, “Our organization has arrived and we deserve to enjoy our success.” Here lies the deepest and deadliest pool of quicksand. When members begin to take the growth of their organization for granted, it won’t be long before they start taking their own personal commitment for granted.
STAY BALANCED TO STAY OUT OF THE QUICKSAND
Staying out is easier than getting out, Mark Twain famously observed. It’s easier to avoid the problems commonly associated with growth than it is to futilely wrestle with them. Healthy long-term growth requires a dynamic mix of opposites delicately balanced to foster healthy long-term asset and service growth. Planned growth must be balanced with advanced infrastructure preparation. Making growth happen must be balanced with waiting on provision. Financial growth must be balanced with sacrifice. Organizational homogeneity must be balanced with diversity. Short-term growth must be balanced with long-term growth. Isolated growth must be balanced with joint venture partnerships.
Balanced organization growth is healthy organization growth. It requires organization leaders who lead balanced, healthy lives. It’s tough for an organization to grow beyond the reach and competence of its leaders. Growth techniques and strategies are no substitute for pure purposes and priorities.
This material was copied and edited with permission from BUILD YOUR OWN TEAM: A BLUEPRINT FOR INSTANT TEAMWORK An Online Book by Phil Van Auken