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December 2008 Archives

Does size matter?

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bigorsmall.jpegOften, when I am pitching a new program idea or a fundraising approach to a client, I hear someone say, "But we're a small organization. We can't do anything big." So this led me to today's Muse View question: does size matter?

And now I turn to you, dear reader - what do you think?

I'll start the conversation by relaying that I have seen small organizations (and when I say small, I mean ones with 2 paid staff or fewer) think and act big, and large organizations with multiple departments think and act small. So you can probably guess that I don't feel that size necessarily equates to capacity.

However, I DO believe that size matters when it comes to impact on your intended audience. I once said that those nonprofits with all the support and money get all the support and money. Conundrums aside, it does seem to be true that a few high-performing organizations seem to attract the most volunteers, the most visitation, the most grants and income. Why is that? I suspect it's because that regardless of their staff or budget size, these organizations tend to think big, but in a believable, viable way. They have managed to have the biggest impact on their target audience, and that goes a long way toward convincing others to support them.

So, as you start out the new year, I encourage you to think big. Yes, I know, the economy is uncertain; everyone is feeling nervous and gloomy. The temptation is to retrench and think small. While I certainly agree with the need to focus on your organization's core assets and values, I think this is the perfect climate in which to ask where you are making the biggest impact on your target audience(s), and how you could shift allocations of time and money in order to maximize that impact. In other words, think big in terms of the stuff you do really well, and don't - to paraphrase a popular expression - sweat the small stuff. And certainly don't use "We're too small" as an excuse. Once you've convinced yourself that you're small, other people will start believing it too.

Right now I am working with an all-volunteer-led organization on a project that, if successful, has potential to be nationally significant. With trepidation we approached some of the top people in the field to participate, because we were convinced of the impact of the idea. Surprise - they all agreed, and the momentum continued to build. Some advisors had encouraged us to "start small," but I'm pretty sure that if we had followed their advice we would spend just as much effort and not advance the organization's mission in any significant way. 

Sometimes small is the right approach, and sometime it's not. Tell me how your organization views the issue of size. I'd love to hear how you respond. Happy new year, and I look forward to Musing with you in 2009.

At a crossroads

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I was at a meeting recently discussing various heritage organizations and where they were in their institutional lifecycle. Each had issues that were impeding progress, almost all of them involving governance and/or leadership. "You know," said a colleague, "what each of these organizations has in common is that they're kind of stuck at a crossroads."

"That's true," I replied, "and there's a reason why you bury vampires at a crossroads."

Everyone in the room looked at me as though I had just sprouted three heads, or maybe was a member of the evil undead myself.

Now, I may be channeling my inner Buffy here, but the analogy is perfectly apt. According to some vampire lore, you really can't kill these bloodsucking beasts. All you can do is trap them and keep them contained where they can't wake up and harm anybody. A crossroads was considered to be a semi-cursed place that existed out of regular time and space. If you could manage to bury the vampire at a crossroads (sometimes with a stake in its heart) it couldn't escape and the villagers could get on with their lives.

So do you see the parallel? When you look at your nonprofit organization, what is sucking life out of it? Where are you stuck? Can you find a way to leave the "vampire" at the crossroads, choose a path, and move on? If you've learned to think strategically, you can chose the best direction in which to move forward, recognizing that sometimes there is no "right" way to go, only a "not wrong" way.

Supernatural analogies aside, every organization finds itself at a crossroads sometimes. You can get stuck there forever, or you can move on. If you need help getting out, that's ok. Call on your network and see if anyone you know has faced a similar situation. What did they do? Enlist the professionals like us if it's appropriate. Just find a way out.

Have a great weekend! Join me next week for more Muse View.


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Pronunciation: \-vən-zəz\
Function: noun plural but sometimes singular in constructionelevenses.jpeg
Etymology: double plural of eleven (o'clock)
Date: circa 1819
British : light refreshment (as a snack) taken in the middle of the morning
Definition thanks to Merriam-Webster
The concept of elevenses is so civilized. Right around eleven o'clock we all get hungry. It's too early for lunch (although I have to admit I've eaten lunch before 10:30) and we still have things to accomplish to make the morning productive. So here's my piece of advice for the day: make elevenses part of your routine. Have a snack, check your email, and catch up on your blogs (mine included, of course!)

The Muse View

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Welcome to!

This blog is about - or will be about - issues facing small and medium-sized nonprofit organizations, especially museums, historical societies, and heritage institutions.

My goal is to muse about anything and everything that our potential clients might find interesting and helpful. When possible, I'll include case studies and anecdotes (names withheld to protect the innocent, of course!) in order to illustrate the points I'm trying to make. I encourage my readers to comment frequently and abundantly. I want to know what you're thinking about and how you react to our ideas!

Each Friday I'll try to post something new in time for that late-morning break we all need. So plan to grab another cup of coffee, a snack, or an early lunch and muse with me.








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