Mission creep is defined as “the gradual broadening of the original objectives of a mission or organization.” As a result, an unplanned commitment and/or shift in purpose, staffing, and resources occur.
We’ve seen mission creep play out in many different scenarios, but most are tied to funding. As an example, we have provided grant writing services to organizations for decades. Inevitably, when discussing grant opportunities, we will be asked to write a grant that doesn’t align with an organization’s purpose. The reason we often hear, despite the lack of alignment, is that “there’s money available.”
You’ve seen this scenario play out, too, I’m sure. Chasing funding for what is believed to be for the good of the organization only to spread the staff thinner than they already are.
Mission creep is not limited only to funding. It can also happen when a person of influence uses their power to further their agenda. For example, we’ve seen board members insert their ideas into programming, and because of some power imbalance, the staff feels beholden to changing or executing new services.
Or it could be a major donor who has a vision for the organization or an idea on a program, that might come with money attached. Again, because of a power imbalance with an affluent donor, the staff succumbs to mission creep.
When organizations start programs or service lines because of money and/or influence, the effect can be cascading. Internal considerations include the following:
- Someone on the fundraising team must write the grant application or proposal, and they often wing it because it’s not been thought through.
- The program team must figure out how it will work, what it will cost, what impact it may have, and how it will be measured. All of this takes time, and the fundraising team needs it by the grant deadline at 5:00 pm.
- Finance needs to know what line items the potential revenue and expense will impact, and how to reforecast the budget.
- HR must determine who will run it and if more employees, contractors, or volunteers will need to be hired to fulfill whatever gets funded or if it gets added to someone else’s already full plate.
- The communications team must figure out how to communicate and how it will fit into the overall marketing strategy.
The external impact of mission creep must also be considered.
The most significant impact is that when an organization says yes to new ideas because of money and/or influence, there are fewer resources to serve the people and places the organization was established to serve.
When the programs and service lines drift, the board must ask itself if the mission is being fulfilled or if the mission is drifting away from the original intent. The public can also question this, and the resulting answer may be a deterioration of public trust.
Our advice for avoiding mission drift is to use the organization’s mission, vision, and values as a lens for decision making.
Every new opportunity must be able to answer “yes” to these questions:
- Does this help us better fulfill our mission?
- Does this help us realize our vision?
- Does this align with our values?
If the answers are yes, then the next set of questions are:
- Do we have the resources to create it?
- Do we have the staff capacity to manage it?
- Is now the right timing to launch it?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no” then don’t take on the new opportunity, no matter the money and/or influence that is at bay.
As the organization’s core, the mission must be held firm. Board members and chief executives need to remember that they are guardians of the mission and stewards of the public’s trust.
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO