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26 Oct

Can Boards Choose the Present Over the Future?

I led a strategic planning process for an organization, and we started exploring options for their future given their limited current revenue, their aging and decreasing membership and their small financial reserves. As often happens, one small sub-group formed to explore possible collaboration with other area nonprofits and another formed to explore optimizing their assets (namely their building, either by sale or rentals).

At some point when the sub-committees came back to report to the board, a very nice board member in his late 60’s/early 70’s said, “Listen, you are telling us to radically change the place that we love here to maybe ensure it exists down the road. I don’t want to worry about down the road. I want to enjoy the place here and now, exactly how it is. If others don’t like it or want to join, fine. We exist for the current members.”

When pushed with the fact that there was less than five years of reserves left given the current deficit spending and that even if they closed, they were responsible for the building (insurance, heating, snow removal etc.), the board basically decided to roll the dice and kick the can down the road.

So they are going on with their aging, happy and strong community enjoying the present. Short of a large bequest or something unexpected happening, they will run out of money in five years tops.

The question this raised for me: Do nonprofits have an obligation to ensure their mission for as long as possible or is it perfectly acceptable to focus on the present, understanding the organization may cease to exist in the near future?

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is founder and principal of Fridman Strategies (www.fridmanstrategies.com), a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for nonprofits.  She is the author of On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service. Nanette can be reached at fridmanstrategies@gmail.com.

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