Saturday, January 15, 2011

Junk food or no food?

Tough times always equal tough choices. For families, for businesses, for governments and for nonprofits. And therein lies today's discussion:

Trust me, I know every reader out there works or volunteers for a nonprofit that has a great and valuable mission. That said, I challenge any of you to say your mission is MORE mission rich (not equal, but MORE) than those organizations among us that feed the hungry.

Thus, there is extra poignancy in the piece posted January 13 on the NPR website entitled "Overburdened Foodbanks Can't Say No to Junk".

I'm sure you can guess the tradeoffs reported in the story. Junk food or no food. Or less food.
And, you can see in the interviews that the staff of the foodbanks are really working the problem, not simply accepting a downgrade in the nutrition level of the food they are handing out.

Good for them, and there is NO criticism implied here.

That said, this kind of dilemma faces nonprofit staff and boards everywhere in a recession. How much less quality can/should we do? When should we stop a service rather than do it less optimally than we would prefer? These are hard strategic and mission questions, and ones I wouldn't be surprised if most readers have faced. I can't tell you what the right level of service/quality is for your organization; only you and your board can make that decision.

But I do have a couple of suggestions on process.

First, well before you have to make very hard decisions, develop a decision tree/format/sequence that everyone has input into and then agrees on. Rely heavily on your mission and values in developing this decision tree. Next, practice using the decision tree with a couple of real world cases to see how it works. Finally, apply it to staff meetings, board sessions and larger strategy meetings.

If everyone is both aware of as well as on the same page regarding HOW decisions are made, they'll be more comfortable with all the outcomes. This is not to say they'll love the decisions: Sometimes the best decision is simply the least worst.

I'd put junk food in that category.

1 comment:

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