We’re sitting in a management meeting with the leaders of the organization or in a board meeting. If you step back and analyze what is of interest to everyone attending, it’s usually everything but fund development. Or one or more of the attendees has just heard of a great idea that most assuredly will revolutionize the organization.
This happens in good times and bad. It surprises me that it happens in difficult times. For example, we are all beset by COVID-19. There’s no question that money is THE major item that should be in everyone’s mind and pressing itself to pop out of their mouths in robust and engaged discussion.
How’s it going? How much is missing? What are we doing about it? What if we don’t get there?
You know – critical, organization-saving questions like that. And asking what challenges we’re having in the delivery of the program that is central to our reason for being.
But, no… that is not what’s on anyone’s mind. Instead it’s the latest great idea for promotion, or that some local celebrity has said he loves the organization, or that there is this program expansion idea someone heard about that should be considered.
Pure babble is what I call it. It’s the old standard lack of focus when you are talking to someone about something critical, and they suddenly yell “squirrel!” and point to the retreating animal just outside the window.
I have sat in many meetings and kept a running list of the topics and the time allotted to each topic. You should try it sometime. Write the topic in column A and the amount of time spent on it in column B. Then analyze the relative value of each topic or the sum of all topics that have hardly anything to do with what is really important. It’s a killer of an exercise.
Believe me, once you get it done, you’ll sit there in amazement that smart, capable people wasted so much time on practically nothing, while the house was burning down.
This whole phenomenon is called path dependence, a concept introduced to me by Doug McDaniel, a friend and capable fundraising and communications professional who is now retired.
The non-economic definition of path dependence, according to Wikipedia, explains how the set of decisions people face for any given circumstance is limited by the decisions they have made in the past or by the events that they experienced, even though past circumstances may no longer be relevant (to today’s situation or circumstances).
It’s like a brain freeze. “We’ve always done it like this.” Or, “how we solved it before was like this.” And the result is that you don’t think new thoughts or zero-base the situation to force yourself to create priorities that matter and are effective now.
I’ve concluded that path dependence is what I’m seeing in the meetings I described earlier. I mean, who has ever seen the mess we are in with COVID-19? No one! It’s entirely new. That’s why it is so hard to think about it right and therefore DO the right things.
But it’s also why leaders, managers and even MGOs and PGOs need to step back and identify what is important. For Jeff and me it all boils down to two things:
- What kind of impact are we having with our program? This is the part that is central to the mission of the organization and your reason for being.
- What resources do we need to secure to make sure we’re delivering our program?
I can’t think of anything that tops these two topics.
What course are you on as a leader or manager? Are you leading properly and focused on the right things? Or are you letting the conversations and meetings focus on pixie dust and squirrels? It’s time to re-orient things if that’s what you’re doing.
And MGO or PGO, how are you focused with your caseload donors? Are you letting them know what financial obstacles and challenges the organization has, that are preventing your program people from delivering impactful services? Are you telling them how THEY can be part of the solution? I hope so. It’s the right thing to do.
It’s time to get back to the real issues and what really matters. These are critical times where clear thinking is needed; each of us needs to get rid of path dependence.