Expand. Create. Abandon. Part Two.

Last week, we wrote about expand and create, the first two elements of our Expand. Create. Abandon. decision-making structure.

While expand and create are about growth, it should not be assumed that abandon is about decline. Rather, abandon is a strategic decision to let go and move forward.

Some boards think abandon is about failure — that a program wouldn’t be sidelined unless it is broken or ineffective. However, a program may work well and be moderately effective, but it has either run its course or the environment is changing and some new offering is needed that will have an even greater impact.

As we mark the one-year anniversary of the shutdown in our country, this is the ideal time to assess what should be abandoned for good — not just as a result of the pandemic.

If organizations wait too long to abandon, the program can become a drain on resources. Nonprofits have life cycles but so do products, services, activities, processes, and even conventional wisdom.

Peter Drucker refers to this process as “planned abandonment,” which is strategic and proactive.

“To call abandonment an ‘opportunity’ may come as a surprise. Yet planned, purposeful abandonment of the old and of the unrewarding is a prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising. Above all, abandonment is the key to innovation—both because it frees the necessary resources and because it stimulates the search for the new that will replace the old.”

When we work with boards in retreat settings, they often have lots of ideas for expanding and creating but when it’s time to determine what they will abandon, there are far fewer ideas.

During the last year of operating in a pandemic, we have all had a master class in abandonment. The norms of in-person meetings and activities that were considered absolutes went out the window as virtual you-name-it became the new norm.

One reason it’s hard for nonprofit leaders and boards to abandon is because of emotion, legacy, and orthodoxy. There is often the mentality of “we’ve always done it this way,” which can hinder growth.

With limited time, people, and money, can your organization truly afford to expand and create without freeing up resources by abandoning what was once true?

We promise that through abandonment your organization will have new energy to take on the challenges of today and tomorrow, because your staff and volunteers won’t spin their wheels recreating what once worked in the past.

Let it go. It’s not failure — it’s progress.

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