Having worked with nonprofits and churches for the past decade, it goes without saying that the primary desire of each to is to help. We seek and we search out those who are in need, and then we help. After sitting through what must at this point be hundreds of planning meetings organized “to help,” there is one question that often seems lacking in our discussions about what we’re doing to help and to serve: “Why are we doing this?”
Of course, this is in no way limited to churches or nonprofits. It is a common occurrence for organizations of any type to lose their focus, or discover they have never developed a definitive focus. At best, we engage in “mission bleed”—we are providing services peripheral to our mission or focus, so much so that we’re barely fulfilling our actual mission. We assume that the worst would be having no mission or focus, but in reality the worst is when employees, staff, or volunteers are undereducated on an existing mission or focus, and so lack empowerment to serve it. This tends to cause incredible frustration, anxiety, and burnout for even the most committed individuals. These are not spaces which attract high-impact individuals, because a high-impact individual knows that a primary priority for impact is…focus.
So why are we doing this? Are we doing it because it’s the cool, new trendy thing to do, and we want to seem cutting edge and relevant? Are we doing it only because we have a contract, grant, or endowment that pays us for doing so?
The most powerful, meaningful, and impactful reasons for claiming a project or initiative as “ours” are multiple combinations of the following:
· We are among the best equipped and resourced to provide the need or support its provision (see Dave Parker’s post on “Unpacking Those Assets”)
· We vision this as a natural evolution or progression of our current work—it’s not adding onto our work, but helping us to “grow up” in our organizational development
· We have and maintain established and healthy relationships with the people receiving the services, and they are in agreement that it is of significant value to them
· We have independently established it as a dire need and service to our stakeholders
So, what is our why? It is true that at times situations are moving so quickly or are so dire that what may matter in the moment is doing something. But there also comes a moment when we must figure out and understand if that something is for us to nurture and continue. Attempting to live someone else’s “why” drains us because it’s not meant for us, and the work at which we are meant to excel and thrive remains undone.
Theologian Howard Thurman famously wrote, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I believe, though, that our “why” is found at the intersection of what the world needs and what makes us come alive—it is the place where our giftedness and capacity most contributes into and strengthens our community. It’s fulfillment of our passion. So, ask what makes you come alive, and then ask how that passion and gift most benefits who you’re serving. And then—go do it!