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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

LESSON 23 - Focus on Mission Impact and Sustainability

Welcome to Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog, a 40-week journey through the new book, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. Each Wednesday, we're featuring a guest writer’s favorite snippet from the week's topic. Steve Moore is our guest blogger this week for the second of three lessons in "Part 7: Boardroom Best Practices.”

LESSON 23 OF 40 - Focus on Mission Impact and Sustainability
The "dual bottom line" equips boards to address dead horses and sacred cows (or goats).

 In Lesson 23, the authors point us to the helpful resource, Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability. The book’s chart on page 25 provides the outline for a “heavy lifting” session at your next board meeting. Ask your CEO to plot your ministry’s key programs in the four-quadrant grid with these icons: Hearts, Stars, Money Tree, and Stop Sign. Then discuss and discern next steps as you weigh mission impact and sustainability issues. The goal is to be in the “Stars” quadrant: High Mission Impact and High Sustainability.

One way to think about this incredibly helpful resource from John and Dan is to recognize the #1 responsibility of every nonprofit board: “The stewardship of the mission, and the organization.” In Lesson 23 we are given practical tools to assess at a high level the way the mission is expressed through its programs and resources. This helps us understand where the rubber meets the road—the way the mission comes to life through the activities the nonprofit does! 

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 23, pages 115-119: 
• “Nonprofit is a tax designation, not a management philosophy.”
• “Are you tempted to prolong a program that will never be sustainable—perhaps unduly swayed by your heart?”
• “Scripture doesn’t confuse us with a negative dichotomy between business and ministry. The better question is, ‘Whatever tax code we use to serve others (nonprofit or for-profit), will we be sustainable and God-honoring in the long-term?”
• “Nonprofit” is a status awarded by the government for serving communities, not an excuse to manage poorly or to be unfocused in the deployment of resources!
Attention Board Members: Don’t check effective business practices at the door of the board meeting! 

At the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, we seek to inspire organizations to focus on sustainability in their important work—so they will flourish not just for three years, but for generations perhaps. We’ve noticed that some organizations hyper-focus on failing programs, thinking more funds will prop up a failed strategy. That rarely works. Money is rarely the solution.

Instead, we commend boards and CEOs that understand their mission and their calling and thoughtfully focus on how their “Heart” programs (High Mission Impact and Low Sustainability) can gradually become “Stars” (High Mission Impact and High Sustainability).

The “Stop Sign” is the perfect metaphor. Even though it’s a painful decision, boards and CEOs must eventually act—and “pull the plug” on a failed program.

One of the most common sayings in the nonprofit world is that the board’s biggest responsibility is to pick the president. While that is an important responsibility, it actually falls under the biggest responsibility—to steward the mission!

Tragically, many nonprofits are full of vision or passion but thin on strategy and execution. We often have groups that seek our support as a foundation who hope they can simply inspire us with their vision. We are regularly inspired! But, we are sometimes saddened when little thought has been given to deploying their resources, human and financial, in the ways that most effectively represent that vision and mission. Boards must learn to ask hard questions and encourage leaders to say no to “good things,” and focus on the highest and best ways for the mission to come to life in the programs and activities of the nonprofit. 

“Everyone who has ever taken a shower has had a great inspirational idea; it’s those who get out of the shower and plan and execute that finally make a difference in the world.”


Steve G.W. Moore, Ph.D., serves the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust as the Executive Director and CEO. The Trust is a private foundation which seeks to nurture and enrich the educational, spiritual, cultural, and social life of individuals, families, and communities with particular interest in the Pacific Northwest. Steve is an alumnus of McMurry University, Asbury Theological Seminary, St. Andrews University, and the University of Michigan. He did post-grad work at Hebrew University and Harvard University and was a visiting scholar at Oxford University. He is a widely published author and speaker and has served in a number of leadership roles in community and professional organizations.

Steve and his wife, Thanne, a professional speech pathologist, have four children: Madison and his wife Chandi, now with The University of Texas, and daughters, Maegan, who works as a business consultant in Great Britain; and Mollie, who works in Washington, D.C. They share the house with Cooper, a fun-loving yellow lab. 

• Inspire one or two board members to read Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability (see the chart on page 25).
• After you’ve plotted your key programs in the four quadrants, pray and discern your next steps.
• What are the top three programs that represent the mission of the board on which you serve? Is that where your resources flow? 


On May 2, 2018, watch for Scott Rodin's commentary on Lesson 24, "Ministry Fundraising 101 for Board Members: Could your board members pass a pop-quiz of fundraising practices?"

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