Fans of Mission Impossible, Thomas Crown and other heist movies will remember with fondness the scenes of daring thieves rapelling down into a art museum to steal millions of dollars of paintings. The idea of dashing art thief has been around for a while, and it sounds romantic.
Only this week in Olympia a pair of art thieves got it wrong, and in doing so illustrated a little problem many of us have: going to a lot of effort, eliciting a bunch of drama, for very little benefit. (Story in News Tribune) Apparently the thieves broke into an Olympia art gallery, rappelled down into the museum, and after great effort....stole two paintings worth a combined $1400. $1400.? Aren't they supposed to make off with millions? Not in this case.
Going to great dramatic effort for very little payoff is common in many areas of life, not the least of which is the non-profit world. How many times have you seen huge fundraising pushes to raise a few thousand dollars? Or entire organizations developed, overhead taken on, offices rented, and letterhead printed...only to open a non-profit with limited scope of work, open a few days a weeks, to help a handful of people. Such a waste.
Here's a few ways you can check to make sure the effort of your charitable work will be wisely invested:
Is the work critical? Some problems are not critical, life threatening or pressing. If you find yourself gearing up in a huge way, make sure it's in service to a critical issue. Why is this important? Because many efforts struggle because potential supporters sense that the cause isn't critical and so they don't engage. Then you have a situation, which is common in the non-profit world, where an organization exists, but continually struggles because it's scope is too limited to gain interest of a wide range of support.
Is the work essential? Some work is critical, but organizations don't scale it up to seem essential, thus the effort suffers. Hunger is a critical issue, but often organizations don't approach it as essential, for example: only feeding once a day or once a week. Either it's criticial or it's not, but donors will not respond to half measures.
Does it scale? Some ideas need to be done on a large scale to be effective, and other ideas are exposed as weak or timid when you imagined them scaled up. What would your program look like if it was national or internationa? Would the overhead needed to make that possible be worth the payoff? Often times governments get services wrong because they can take any program national without much effort, so you end up with programs that are not rightsized for the dollars needed to make it happen. Some ideas don't scale, and asking yourself the question at the beginning will help you make good decisions in evaluating what to do, and what to do big.
Am I wrong to question the efficacy of charitable programs? Push back and let me know if you think my reasoning is wrong. I'd love to hear your feedback.
Read all of David Curry's blogs at http://blog.rescue-mission.org
or visit the Rescue Mission at http://www.rescue-mission.org