Jumbo Shrimp

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 12th, 2008 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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I love oxymorons, and frequently get tired of having to use the crystal clear example of jumbo shrimp to explain to the uninitiated what an oxymoron is.  Thanks to Thomas Wolf, author of Managing a Nonprofit in the 21st Century, I was reminded of one I’d clearly long forgotten:  organized abandonment.  (It was Peter Drucker who introduced this concept.)  Whenever I hear this term, I see a wonderful flower power child running through fields with a billowing skirt, long hair blowing in the wind, flowers and butterflies, etc., juxtaposed to the old-school executive secretary with the tight bun, glasses, long, straight and oh so prim and proper suit, stencil pad and pen following the boss around.


The term came back to me as I’ve been thinking of how can we help organizations get through what is shaping into some tough times for many.  Organized abandonment is the planned phasing out of operations–of a program that is no longer relevant to the mission, of a program that is being done much better by others, of a program that no longer is viable, or, even worse to many, the planned phasing out of an organization.


Far too often, there is simply abandonment, minus the organized.  An organization simply closes down as it has run out of money.  A program’s plug is suddenly pulled.  Prior to the decision to close an organization or program, all energy and effort was focused on paths to survival, as opposed to planned paths for cessation.  So, no warning was given to, nor preparation made for clients, staff, funders, or the public.  Rather, all read/hear the announcement via the media, whisper down the lane, etc.  In these situations, it is true abandonment.  That is the emotion everyone experiences.  Not to mention surprise, sorrow (at times), fear, and more.


But do not save this concept for only when you think a program or the organization is tanking.  The Organized Abandonment Grid may be a valuable tool to use to assess just how healthy—or not—your parts and your whole are, in good economic times and bad.  Doing this kind of strategic assessment may help your organization keep running through the fields, with the flowers and the butterflies, and smiles.

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