Built to Last

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 1st, 2009 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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building cathedral

 Last Friday, The Nonprofit Center was fortunate enough to have Billy Shore, founder of Share our Strength, Community Wealth Ventures and author of numerous bookshttps://www.lasallenonprofitcenter.org/educational/shore_articles.php, articles, contemplations, etc., be the keynote speaker at our annual Nonprofit Strategies Forum.  An entertaining public speaker, he intermingles the right amounts of humor and seriousness to keep his audience entertained and cerebral, both at the same time.  And his messages are ones that need to be heard, regardless of the economic times.  

For example, he asked the question, “What are you doing to make your organization built to last?”  Well, right now, far too many nonprofits aren’t thinking about “built to last” but “survival”.  And that will be their downfall.  Obviously, you cannot be built to last if you do not survive; but mere survival neither guarantees nor necessarily leads to being built to last.  Rather, clarity of mission and core values, imbued throughout the organizational culture and people, and that provides the focus and direction and the guide for how to operate, what to do and what not to do, etc., during both good and bad times are what allow for survival and bring sustainability. 

He presented his analogy of the cathedral builder and the work of those of us in the nonprofit sector who toil in the realm of change, who are trying to fix society’s social problems—big and small.  Shore’s point is that cathedrals are not built in a day, a year or even a lifetime.  They take centuries, if there is even a finite end point to the “building.”  The problems that so many nonprofits address—from poverty to hunger to abuse to illnesses to addiction to education—are not redressed in a lifetime.  This requires great tolerance for delayed gratification.  And I worry.  Do the next generations from which our future nonprofit leaders and employees will come understand this concept?  Or in this age of cell phones, the web and Twitter, are we raising future cathedral builders? 

And finally, there is what Shore calls the “compassion paradox.”  I love having a name to put on this all-too common restrictor of nonprofit performance:  they don’t get investing for the future and the concept of return on investment (ROI).  Shore writes, “The solutions to the problems nonprofits address are long-term, but the culture of nonprofit organizations discourages investments beyond those that pay off in the short-term.”  This has long been one of my greatest frustrations in dealing with nonprofits—the inability of so many to understand that commitment to the mission isn’t measured simply by looking at how many hours are spent working directly with or for clients.  We also prove our commitment to the mission by investing in our future ability to continue to serve that mission, by taking time—and other resources—and invest in creating a strategic plan and a diversified fund development strategy, staff development, succession planning, building maintenance and, if necessary, improvements, and the list goes on and on.  And this we must do, not in fits and starts, when the feeling moves us, but as a constant part of the work that we do every day. 

So, what are you doing to be a built to last organization?


Read more about Bill Shore and the 2009 Nonprofit Strategies Forum on The Nonprofit Center’s website .

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.