The Best Gift Your Nonprofit Can Give the World: A Viable Plan to Go Out of Business

Thomas Friedman’s New York Times op-ed piece entitled Adults Only, Please contains a powerful thought-starter for nonprofit organizations:

Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, likes to talk about two kinds of values: “situational values” and “sustainable values.” Leaders, companies or individuals guided by situational values do whatever the situation will allow, no matter the wider interests of their communities. A banker who writes a mortgage for someone he knows can’t make the payments over time is acting on situational values, saying: “I’ll be gone when the bill comes due.”

People inspired by sustainable values act just the opposite, saying: “I will never be gone. I will always be here. Therefore, I must behave in ways that sustain — my employees, my customers, my suppliers, my environment, my country and my future generations.”

For nonprofits, cleaving to sustainable values means focusing on the cause rather than the organization that promotes it. Paradoxically, nonprofits embrace sustainable values by creating a viable plan to go out of business.

I wrote about this last year in a post entitled Wanted: Extinction, Not Attention that highlighted the work of Willie Cheng, author of Doing Good Well: What Does (and Does Not) Make Sense in the Nonprofit World. In Cheng’s words,

Individual charities are set up to solve specific societal issues, and hence should be working themselves out of a job by finding the solutions.

Translated into Seidman’s values language, a nonprofit with laserlike focus on finding solutions to the specific societal issue it was created to address will display sustainable values as it works itself out of existence.

Witness sustainable values in action in the decision of the Children’s Aid Society to close one of its schools, in Greenwich Village, New York. Why?

Because their sustainable values caused them to recognize that they had accomplished their work in that area.

From the Nonprofit Quarterly:

The school operates as part of the Phillip Coltoff Center, which according to the New York Times, opened 119 years ago “when the Village was populated by legions of poor children.” Times have changed, and the Children’s Aid Society feels the school’s 1,000 young children – plus older students who take part in extra-curricular programs—come from families who can afford to send them elsewhere, even at a higher cost. “We can’t really justify,” said Richard R. Buery Jr., president and chief executive of the Children’s Aid Society, “the big disconnect between having so many resources focused on serving a population—while clearly a population that needs and deserves the service – that simply has access to more resources and opportunity than a place in the South Bronx, who are in our mission to serve.”

This wouldn’t be the first time that the Children’s Aid Society has closed operations, declaring its work done in a particular community. The Times cites two other schools shut down in past years. “We support communities’ being strong, and then when they’re strong you want to focus on ones that are not,” Buery added.

If Children’s Aid Society was focused on situational values, they would have focused on institutional health and parental demand and continued to operate the school. But by focusing on the sustainable value of cause, they recognized it was time to declare victory and move on.

The Whole Life Offering Ten (from my new book due out in February) puts it this way:

Nonprofits and parachurch ministries are church renewal movements, called to equip the church comprehensively in a particular work of mercy so that work may once again be normative for Christians.

Same is true for secular nonprofits: they are societal renewal movements. Either they solve the problem they were created to address, or they make attending to the problem the normative behavior of ordinary folks rather than the professionalized province of a specialized nonprofit.

As I noted in another post from last year, Nonprofit as Church Renewal Movement, such a focus–on the sustainable value of cause rather than the situational value of nonprofit survival, would give us an entirely different set of success measures:

  • Getting big wouldn’t be viewed inherently as a good thing or even as a goal; in  fact, we’d view it with a certain amount of suspicion. After all,
  • The real metric of success would be the degree to which the Christian nonprofit successfully re-embedded care of the particular cause back into the church.
  • We’d definitely be measuring not only ROI but RII, and
  • We’d know exactly when to go out of business, namely, when the church gets back in business and on firm footing in relation to the biblical cause God has given us to harangue the church about.
  • Could that be what God has in mind when He calls us to found a nonprofit?

So this year as you contemplate what to give your donors for Christmas and year end, eschew the calendars, key chains, and staff photos and send them your viable plan to achieve your purpose and go out of business.

It’ll set you up for a much better year-end or new year ask, by the way.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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5 Responses to The Best Gift Your Nonprofit Can Give the World: A Viable Plan to Go Out of Business

  1. Don Riker says:

    Thanks, Eric – just added a “Going Out of Business Plan” to my task list!

  2. Pingback: Happy New Year and a Weekly Listing of Fundraising Headlines and Blogs | Fundraising Headlines

  3. Pastor Foley, what would it look like for Voice of the Martyrs – 순교자의 소리 to be out of business? An end to all persecution of Jeosan Christians? Churches full of North Koreans, South Koreans, and Foreigners praying, sowing, and reaping equally?

    • Pastor Foley says:

      Hello 린다 자매, we are definitely not a persecution reduction ministry, that’s for sure! (Persecution transformation, maybe; i.e., helping Christians avoid needless and mindless antagonism, helping Christians understand why Christians don’t jump into the public sphere in order to demand that their rights be respected and their way of life be preserved.) Persecution is simply a consequence of faithful discipleship and witness in a fallen world. Our practice of Christ’s suffering love on behalf of our enemies is an essential element of loving our enemies. As to our VOMK purpose and when it will be achieved, we are here to help Korean churches transit underground. Once that is accomplished, our work will be complete. That is the full extent of what I will share for now. More to come as 2017 unfolds.

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