Goldilocks and the Three Chairs— staying in focus

Joan M. Renner, CPA, CGMA, Director 501(c)(fit!)

Once upon a time, there was a woman named Goldilocks who was ready to update her living room.  The décor had been the same for so many years, it seemed tired.  The seating wasn’t functional, so her family spent most of their time in the kitchen.  “This old space doesn’t work for our lifestyle anymore.  I’d like to create something that’s inviting, functional and durable.  What I really need is a new chair!”  Deciding that, off she went to the furniture store.

When Goldilocks arrived, she was overwhelmed by the cavernous store packed with so many different pieces of furniture.  How would she ever decide?  The salesman ushered her over to a small section with three chairs.

Goldilocks sized up the first chair.  She approved of the fashionable color, so she sank down into the cushions to give it a try.  Almost instantly, one of the chair legs began to shift, and the chair started to sag to one side.  “This chair may look good, but it just wouldn’t last with my family.”

Jumping up, Goldilocks moved on to the second chair.  It was well within her budget, but the design was stiff, and the color was out of date.  “This chair just isn’t inviting.  No one will feel drawn to it.  It’s a decent chair, but it’s not the inspiration for my new room.” 

Moving on, Goldilocks gave the third chair a try.  “I love the look of it, and the soft pillowy cushions are just right.  This chair is well-made, too.  It will be the perfect centerpiece for my new room.”  Goldilocks didn’t mind that this chair was the most expensive of the three.  She found it inspiring and it looked and felt perfect.  She gladly paid for the chair, and arranged for delivery.  Goldilocks was delighted with her updated living room and, of course, lived happily ever after.

How did Goldilocks choose just the right chair?  Focus. 

Author, Jim Collins, emphasizes the importance of focus in his book, Good to Great.  Collins encourages organizations to focus on the intersection of three spheres: your passion, your unique capability and your ability to drive resources.  

In the nonprofit world, it boils down to asking three questions:      

  • Does this activity meet a vital need related to our mission?
  • Can we be the best provider of this activity in our community?
  • Will this activity inspire others to follow us and donate their time, talent and treasure?

Choosing among potential projects can be overwhelming.  To the extent you can focus your organization on what you can do best and what is needed the most, you will inspire people to join you.

What can we learn?

Infuse this focus into your planning.  You’re probably not starting from scratch, but consider these three factors when evaluating your current programs.  During your budgeting process, don’t be afraid to shift resources from an old program to a new one, if it improves your focus. 

Resist getting side-tracked.  Every new program idea won’t be in your sweet spot of focus.  Set up a process to evaluate new program ideas to be sure you are uniquely capable of delivering significant mission-related impact through that activity.

Assess your impact.   Design some impact metrics that link participation in your programs to improved mission-related outcomes, collect the data, and report it to your Board.  The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance recommends that Boards make it a policy to assess their organizations’ performance and effectiveness at least every two years to determine future actions. 

Learn more about budgeting.  We have a helpful session to help emerging nonprofit leaders strengthen their understanding of the budget development process, Building your Budget—and putting it to work. It’s part of our live two-day seminar, Financial Leadership Training for Emerging Nonprofit Professionals.

Prepare for growth.  When organizations grow, emerging nonprofit leaders find themselves overseeing new challenges.  We’ve got some helpful sessions on navigating nonprofit growth in our seminar Raising the Bar—Preparing for Higher Expectations–Continued Financial Leadership Training for Emerging Nonprofit Professionals.

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