Expiration Dates for Nonprofits

Interesting piece in Fast Company recently, “Why Charities Should Have an Expiration Date.” Nancy raised good issues — like mission creep — and pondered the connection between a charity’s clear mission and its efficacy rating on a charity-rating service like Guidestar.

She asked: Why aren’t we seeing more nonprofits going out of business because they’ve met their goals?

One sad and simple answer is that too many nonprofits have not met their goals. More and more issues are being addressed by non-governmental organizations. More and more challenges are being shifted from the public sector into the private, either because of lack of government funding or lack of will or both. Big, complex social problems don’t lend themselves easily to finite goals. And that doesn’t even begin to consider issues that cut across borders, where “solutions” will be 50 percent funding, 50 percent technology and 50 percent persuasion.

The mission-creep is real, though, and the organizations that are either strategically or unwittingly redefining their missions and goals are many. So what should we — as funders, board members and supporters of nonprofits — be asking nonprofit leaders? Instead of “why are you still here,” how about “can we clearly articulate what we’re trying to do?” “What does the next milestone look like?” “What will get done — in the next political cycle, the next decade, the next two decades?”

Read the article, think about YOUR favorite nonprofits, and see what questions you’d want them to answer about why they still matter.

And if Nancy’s “drive a stake into them” position is right, then how could you help them exit stage right, with grace?