Avoid the Log Cabin Model of Nonprofit Development

Sometimes, about the worst thing that can happen to a fledgling nonprofit is a great opportunity.

There you are: you have a compelling mission and a unique, strategic approach to advancing it. You’re successfully funding your program, building a public brand and community presence, developing partnerships and meeting targets. You rock!

And then…just over there…appears a plum opportunity. A low-hanging grant, for example, there for the taking. If you go for it, you’ll get it. And it’s…almost in your mission area. Almost.

Hey, we’re nimble and entrepreneurial! We can do this, increase our budget and capacity!

So you go for it. Now you have a new program. Woohoo!

And then it happens again.

Flash forward ten years, and now your organization looks like a country home that starts as a log cabin, but becomes a labyrinth of rooms grafted on one at a time as need and convenience present themselves. You need a map to find the kitchen, it’s a quarter of a mile from the front door to the back bathroom, and yet the whole place is only 1500 square feet.

In organizational terms, here’s what that looks like: you’re stuck doing things that aren’t really on-point to your mission goals. You have funders and volunteers who are invested in those activities, and you’re therefore somewhat held hostage to continuing them. Your brand has become a muddy grab-bag of only marginally related activities, and many may wonder what you’re really trying to accomplish. And the sheer capacity drain that juggling all this requires now completely prevents strategic evolution.

See what I mean?

I’m having fun here, but my point is that “death by opportunity” happens. It’s a real thing. Enthusiasm and optimism are necessary elements of successful enterprise, but if you let yourself get pulled in all directions as you chase the opportunity du jour, your effort can lose track of what it is really about.

Be open to possibilities, but keep your eye on the ball. Be sure to thoroughly explore the ramifications of adding new programs before you make that leap.

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