Look Your Organization in the MirrorBy
No matter who you are, or what you’re doing, it’s time your organization took a look in the mirror. There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations operating in the U.S. today. As staggering as this number is, it ignores the innumerable PTA’s, neighborhood groups, recreation committees and other ‘off-the-books’ type associations that we parents are most likely to be involved in. Amongst this vast and diverse group of formal and informal organizations, there exists a common -and sometimes crippling- identity crisis. Many of these groups don’t know who they are.
Every group needs to embrace and project a well-defined set of attributes. It’s members, and the bystanders with whom the group may interact, need to have a clear understanding of the association’s ideals, motives and behavioral characteristics. Without this forethought, the group will be handicapped from the start. High turnover, fluctuating commitment and disproportionate efforts will surely characterize the membership. Without a well-developed group identity, some team members quickly find themselves tired, disappointed or disillusioned. Innovation and quality will be sacrificed for convenience. Ideas will fail for lack of follow-through, and team morale will quickly become a figment of the organization’s past.
“No matter what your cause, there exists an inventory of people waiting to work with you. They just don’t know it yet. Make a commitment, to earn their commitment.” – Author’s Note
Most of our organizations are hastily brought together, and tentatively held together, by a small impassioned group. We call this “the committed core.” Though the term sounds kind of neat, we need to do whatever we can to avoid it. For while its true that short-term collaborations can subsist on personal friendships and individual efforts, none can survive this way, much less thrive this way. Intense individual efforts limit the breadth and longevity of a group’s effectiveness. What we need instead, is steady collaborative progress accomplished through a well-proportioned delegation of responsibilities. In order for this to happen, there must be a strong group identity. This identity is what draws other members into the group, and secures their commitment to common goals, principals and beliefs.
Short-term affiliates and exploratory new memberships are the fast food meals of the organizational realm. You’ll see these people float in and out of your ranks. While this kind of help can get things done, it doesn’t necessarily translate into “progress” for your organization. If you want your group to grow, and your efforts to be reinvested, you’ll need to fill your ranks with assets that are committed to the advancement of your association. If you want to know which type of membership you currently have, try this quick test. Walk into your next meeting and pose the question, “Who are we?“. Not “What do we do?”, or “Why are we here?”; as those answers are self-evident. Instead, you want to know:
When you do this, you’re guaranteed to get a few weird looks, and at least as many different answers. If you press the discussion just a bit, you’ll be surprised to find how many people have been sitting next to you, or working alongside you, without a clear reason ‘why’. Worse yet, without a definitive and conspicuous group identity, you’re guaranteed to find some team members with an ambiguous or subjective view that is out of whack, or even contrary to the group’s intended purpose. Neither of these circumstances are tolerable.
So it’s time to get specific with your membership, and craft your group’s public persona. Be ready for resistance. Some groups purposely avoid creating a clear and deliberate profile. Sometimes this is due to a lack of vision. Other times, it is because group leaders fear that the organization will appear exclusive, and in so doing, limit their prospective membership. In practice though, the opposite it true. The more clearly you describe your group, the more alluring you make it for those who hold similar attributes. In marketing, this is referred to as a ‘targeted audience’. And just as decades of advertising experience has taught us, the more directly you target your audience, the more productive your pitch. So even if half as many people show up to your meetings, you can rest easy knowing that those who do, will be twice as motivated, committed and productive.
Setting Your Identity
A strong group identity will transcend the individual personalities of your team members. It will infuse your efforts with clear and present meaning. What’s more, it will serve as a powerful beacon for those who may want to collaborate with you.
Developing this identity isn’t hard. Start with 3 to 5 Core Values or behavior characteristics (ex. Courage, Innovation, Credibility, Compromise). Articulate your Motivation and set your group’s Compass. Determine how you will incorporate, or express, these elements in your efforts. Lastly, discuss how you might Transform others from bystanders, into team members. This can be done on a single sheet of paper, in as little as thirty minutes. Once refined, it should be reiterated as often as possible, and relied upon to guide your group’s behavior.
Remember, no matter what your cause, there exists a vast inventory of dormant supporters; people who are ready to work with you, but don’t know it yet. Your group identity will be the spark that ignites their effort. Make a comittment to earn their comittment. If this is the only thing you do at your next meeting, it may just be the most productive meeting you’ve ever had.
Leave a Comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.