If you’re attended many meetings with nonprofit consultants, the phrase you get used to hearing is, “If you’re not growing, you’re not succeeding”. At the risk of being rude, may I say, “Baloney!” Beware of talking heads who want to give you their pearls of wisdom. Unless you know that the person giving the sage advice has and is running their own nonprofit and getting their own hands dirty, don’t be too quick to take their words as gospel truth.
There are too many “consultants” who want to apply business management principals to the nonprofit world. Guess what? It doesn’t work. Just as there are hundreds of specialties a new doctor can opt to become an expert in, there are hundreds if not thousands of opportunities in the world of service and they don’t lend themselves to being boxed in by cookie cutter wisdom.
Serving more just means you’re serving more. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it well. There are several fast food burger chains that can put the number of burgers they’ve served in the billions. So what? Does that make it a better burger? Probably not. Just as assembly line cooking doesn’t lend itself to excellence, neither does assembly line serving of clients.
When you first decide you want to serve the homeless, your goal is probably to eradicate world hunger and see every single homeless person housed in six months. Once reality sets it you begin to adjust your priorities to a more reasonable level. The amount of clients you can serve is limited by many factors, some of which are totally beyond your control: where are you going to find the food, hygiene items, clothing, etc. to provide for your clients? How many volunteers do you have? What kind of storage space do you have? Do you have to hold down a job at the same time? Do you have a family who deserves at least 5% of your time?
Letting someone put the guilt whammy on you by taking criticism for not increasing the numbers you serve will probably do nothing more than make you discouraged enough to quit. And then what have you accomplished? Do you really want to carry that around with you the rest of your life?
Growth is ok, but not for its own sake and not just to be able to say, “Last year we served 500. This year we served 1,000 and next year we intend to serve 2,000”. The people who care about statistics will pat you on the back. The people who really matter, your clients, will begin to wonder if you even remember them anymore.
It’s better to concentrate on serving each individual well, rather than serving more. You won’t get into the Guinness book of records, and you won’t find yourself in the press every time you turn around, but you’ll receive more hugs, kisses and declarations of gratitude from your clients than you ever dreamed of. A standing ovation of one you know the name of is far better than counting up tick marks for the ones you will never have the privilege and joy of knowing.