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institutional development: June 2009 Archives

Or not. I haven't decided yet.Dorothy-Lime-Apron_8.jpg

Yesterday a catalog of children's clothing arrived in my mail. It was full of back-to-school buys and that was all expected, but what I was surprised by was how old-fashioned the clothes were. Jumpers. Cadigan sweaters. Knee socks. Mary Janes. Rugby shirts. Pleated skirts. In short, the whole thing looked like a maroon and navy Dick and Jane book.

Interesting, I said to myself. For some time, I've noticed society at large going kind of retro. In 2007-2008 it was like living through the 1970s again. I half expected macrame to make a comeback. Now, in 2009 it's feeling even older. I told you I've taken up sewing in a big way, and a trip to WalMart the other deal revealed that I'm not the only one. What are popular projects? Aprons, of all things, done up in faux 1940s print cottons with ruffles and tight waists. Just the right thing to can your own peaches in or make your own apple pie.

Let's cut to the chase: my thought is that we're trying to recapture some kind of sense of American identity that's associated with thrift, endurance, and focus. I don't believe that we're recreating the 1930s and 1940s in all their details, however - we're proud of the fact that we have an African American president, for example, something that would have been unimaginable then. And of course we're buying smart phones by the zillions and spending way too much time on Facebook. No, we're retooling old concepts in the form of aesthetics, I think.

Does this mean that history and heritage organizations have a new lease on life? Maybe, if they managed to tap into this zeitgeist I'm talking about, and somehow reinvent themselves as "retro" rather than simply old-fashioned. I think they ought to figure out how to attract the kids dressed in those jumpers and rugby shirts, and with them their parents. That's a tricky proposition, of course, and the danger is that this is a short-lived fad. However, I'm intrigued enough that I'm going to keep tabs on this phenomenon and will report back periodically.

If you have you're own thoughts, please let me know!
mission_components.gifToday I worked with a great group of board members of a lineal descendant society that owns a 300+-year-old farmstead. They called me in to help them refine their mission statement, feeling that it didn't accurately reflect who they actually are and what they want to achieve in the world.

Sure, I said. I can help. Mission development happens to be a favorite gig of mine. People are usually pretty positive and eager to be energized. It's great fun when I can help them pull together a few words and bam! all of a sudden they have a focus for the future.

For the past six months, people have been wondering if the current economic downturn is the same or different from anything we've seen in the past. In other words, is this a "business cycle dip" or the next Great Depression? I've told folks that I don't know the answer, only that these times we're in don't feel like anything I've been through in the nonprofit business, and I've been doing this since 1991. But I'm starting to have some glimmers of understanding.

First, mission is essential. We've always said that, right? But mission has come to mean more than just a clean, catchy mission statement. It means offering unique services of value to specific people who will be effected positively in specific ways. It means impact as well as outcomes. You've gotta answer the question, "And why should I care?"

Second, expansion is not the road to sustainability. There is a lot of overlap and duplication in the nonprofit community; this is not good, especially in a sector that doesn't like to talk about competition. If we try to expand and drive another group out of business, we may in fact succeed in killing ourselves as well. The name of the game now is focus, focus, focus.

Lastly, we have to figure out how to keep going effectively, not simply limping along with less. We have to be ready to cut loose whatever's dragging us down, and really, really, really be willing to accept change and roll with it. Darn, that's hard. But it can also be fun.

My group this morning went from a passive, safe, secure, and very private mission statement to one that "opens the door of the house," to quote one board member. Now they're free to walk outside and look around. While I was leaving they were actually cheering - not for me, but for all the hard work they had done, and about the prospect of a brighter future that they have control over.

I was so inspired that I knew I had to formulate our own mission statement, so here it is:

Musevue360 helps nonprofits think critically, plan effectively, and achieve lasting results.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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