Focus on your wish list

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

This time of year, most of us are checking some kind of list.  If you’re like me, it’s your to-do list.  For many, it’s your shopping list.  But don’t forget the most important list for your organization—your wish list. 

After all, someone just might ask you—“what’s on your wish list?” 

Your list undoubtedly includes some new resources.  Maybe you need something practical for your office, like a couple of new laptops or a media set-up for your conference room.  Your wish list might include something unexpected, like a new donor.  One Exec told me about the time a brand new donor walked into the office on December 24, and handed her a large contribution check!  These wishes can come true, and everyone could use some additional resources.    

But there’s one other thing you can put on your wish list, that costs nothing, and actually attracts resources.  That thing is “focus”, the ability to focus on the thing you can do best, that is needed the most. 

One of the best charities in the world, Rotary International, focuses its resources on specific areas of need.  A few years ago, Rotary International President, Ravi Ravindran, explained the importance of focus in attracting support.  “Find a solution to a major problem in your community” he said.  “Don’t worry about the money.  The money will find you”.

Author, Jim Collins, also emphasizes the importance of focus in his book, Good to Great.   Although his research was related to for-profit companies, what he tells us about their secrets to success can be applied to the nonprofit world as well

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 sounds something like this:   

  • The first thing on your wish list should be to find your unique capability. What can you be best at in your community?
  • The second item should be mission-related impact. Regardless of your personal passion, what can you do to address a vital need related to your mission?
  • The third is the ability to inspire.  What can you do that inspires others to follow you and donate their time, talent and treasure?

Put these three gifts at the top of your wish list.  They will lead you to focus your organization on using your unique value, to meet a real need, and you will inspire people to help you. 

What can we learn?

Infuse this focus into your planning.  You’re probably not starting from scratch, but as you plan for the future, focus on what you can do best, what is needed the most and what inspires others.  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 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. 

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