Good Governance: Mission Drift – Don’t let this happen to YOUR not-for-profit

In our dynamic not-for-profit landscape, maintaining a steadfast commitment to our organisation’s mission is paramount. However, many NFPs find themselves grappling with the insidious challenge of ‘mission drift’, a phenomenon where the organisation unwittingly veers off course from the original purpose for which it was established.

In this week’s article, I’ll delve into the pitfalls of mission drift and explore actionable strategies to prevent this happening to YOUR organisation.

Firstly, let’s unpack and understand mission drift a bit better…

Mission drift typically occurs when an organisation gradually deviates from its original core mission and objectives – moving its focus slowly away from those fundamental tenets that should guide everything the organisation supposedly does to add value to society.

This deviation from the organisation’s intended path can manifest in a number of ways.
It could be seen in pursuing programs unrelated to the core purpose of the organisation.
It could involve losing focus on the target demographic of beneficiaries the organisation intends to serve.
Or it might manifest itself as prioritising financial gains over true social impact.
Whatever it looks like, the consequences of mission drift can affect the organisation’s reputation, erode stakeholder trust, and decrease overall effectiveness in achieving an organisation’s intended purpose.

Let’s exploring the pitfalls of mission drift in some more detail…

As we all know, trust is of paramount importance for not-for-profits – they rely heavily on the trust and support of their stakeholders, including donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries. When an organisation strays from its original mission, it risks eroding that trust and potentially alienating those who were initially drawn to its cause. Donors might become skeptical, and volunteers may question their commitment, leading to an overall decline in overall for the organisation.

Achieving your purpose is also critically important – the primary reason not-for-profits exist is to address specific social issues and contribute positively to their communities. Mission drift can compromise an organisation’s ability to make a meaningful impact, especially if resources are diverted towards activities that do not align with the original mission. This dilution of efforts hinders the not-for-profit’s capacity to create lasting change.

Staff disengagement is a major issue too, as mission-driven employees (and/or volunteers!) are the lifeblood of not-for-profits. When an organisation experiences mission drift, dedicated staff members may feel disillusioned and disengaged. A misalignment between personal values and organisational direction can lead to decreased morale, increased staff turnover, and a loss of valuable human capital.

Mission drift can also result in regulatory compliance challenges too. Not-for-profits are subject to regulations that require them to operate within the parameters of their stated mission. Mission drift can lead to compliance issues, potentially jeopardising the organisation’s legal standing, as in most jurisdictions it is actually a legal requirement to stay within the parameters of your stated purpose. Mission drift can also complicate compliance in relation to funding arrangements as well. These compliance issues not only pose a threat to the organisation’s sustainability but also tarnishe its reputation in the eyes of regulatory bodies and funders alike.

Mission drift

Preventing mission drift in your not-for-profit – some tips for you to follow…

Establishing (and following!) a robust mission statement is key. Crafting a clear and concise mission statement that reflects the organisation’s purpose, core values and objectives is critical for any organisation. Regularly revisiting and revising this statement is important too – that ensures your mission statement continues to be relevant in the ever-evolving landscape of social issues.

Actively engaging your stakeholders in the strategic decision-making processes of your organisation helps build trust and commitment, and fosters a sense of ownership and shared responsibility. Regular communication through newsletters, forums, and community events also helps keep people informed and invested in the organisation’s mission over time.

Conducting regular assessments and periodic evaluations of the organization’s programs, projects, and activities is essential to ensure they continue to be aligned with the established mission. Implementing key performance indicators (KPIs) and impact assessments allows not-for-profits to gauge their effectiveness and make informed adjustments if needed.

Building a mission-driven culture involves cultivating a strong organisational culture that places the mission at the heart of all decision-making. This includes hiring individuals who are passionate about the cause, providing ongoing training on the mission’s importance, and recognising and rewarding efforts that contribute to its fulfillment.

While adaptability is crucial for not-for-profits to thrive, it should be done within the framework of the organisation’s mission. Clearly define the boundaries within which the organisation can evolve and innovate, ensuring that any changes remain aligned with the overarching mission.

At the end of the day, mission drift poses a significant threat to the integrity and impact of any not-for-profit, and we should do all that we can to prevent it from happening.
By understanding the pitfalls associated with mission drift and implementing proactive measures to prevent it, organisations can safeguard their core values and continue making a positive difference in the communities they serve.
Fostering a culture of mission-driven commitment and regularly reassessing strategies will help not-for-profits to navigate the complexities of the sector while staying true to their original core purpose.

Megan Buntine
22 February 2024

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