In a fascinating Fast Company article, Nancy Lublin argues that earthly life cycles are critical to the efficacy of non-profit organizations.
For-profits go out of business all the time, some for good reasons, others not so much. Lublin challenges us, however, to name a closed non-profit.
A not-for-profit exists to cure something, address an issue, or elevate the status of a group of people; if and when that's achieved, we should be done. This is a little different from the for-profit sector, where companies die of failure -- I'm calling for death by success.
By example and to reinforce her point, she presents us with the case of a well-known organization, the March of Dimes.
... an organization created with a specific goal -- to help find a cure for polio. Unlike most not-for-profits, it succeeded ... in 1955. What a huge, awesome, world-changing accomplishment! But today it suffers from mission creep, having broadened its agenda to "improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality." I like babies. I'm all for neonatal health. (I had a premature, low-birth-weight baby six years ago.) But I think the organization should have quit while it was ahead. Today, Charity Navigator gives it only one out of four stars for efficiency. I wonder if morphing from one cause to another has been part of the problem. And I think it's fair to ask, Would it have been better to celebrate the early victory and shut down?
While the core issue is one of mission definition and governance, I think Lublin's article touches on important, far-reaching talent management and reward questions for those of us who serve non-profit organizations as internal staff, as outside advisors and as board members. Do our reward programs drive mission creep - or do they focus discretionary effort on results in service of a relevant and crisply defined cause? Do they incent the building of "donor-funded jobs programs" - or do they allow for some semblance of the creative destruction process necessary for innovation, providing room for reforming and redirecting effort and capabilities?
I realize that not all non-profits fit the mold presented by this article, and that there are indeed charities whose missions are directed toward legitimately ongoing needs - but I think the core questions are good ones, and important for those of us HR and reward pros working in this environment.