As a person who has always believed that nonprofits should exist to put themselves out of business, it never occurred to me that others in my organization might not feel the same way, or that I might not be aligned with the organizational mission. I always thought that if there was a need, we had to consider and address the root causes of that need, as well as the immediate concerns created by the root causes, so that eventually, we were no longer needed. It never occurred to me to ask if others in the organization felt the same way. Or to take the mission at face value—if indeed the wording of the mission specified a long-term or shorter-term goal.

Food banks can be a good illustration of this dilemma. Most food banks exist to make food available to people who are hungry. This mission is critically important; hunger is part of the lives of too many people and is no one’s friend.
Let’s say I’m a manager at a food bank where the mission is to assuage hunger today. If we are providing food to meet an immediate need, and I am thinking about how to put us out of business by addressing the root causes of hunger, I need to recognize that and ask myself the following:

• Am in in the right job? Perhaps an advocacy role would be a better fit.
• Am I taking the mission seriously?
• Will my longer-term thinking cause mission creep?
• Will my longer-term ideas impact the team I am managing?
• Is the mission clear—does it state that the organization is addressing an immediate need?
• Has the mission been reviewed in the past few years?
• I’m sure you can think of many more.

If my internal goal is not aligned with the mission, I might be managing in ways that are not helpful to my team, and subsequently not helpful to those who need food today.

I’d want to know if everyone within the organization clear about their orientation to the mission, and how they are carrying out their jobs to meet it. Clarity, both in one’s self and throughout the organization, can help orient and direct the work being done.

I’d also want to know if the mission is clear. Are there ambiguities in the wording that might lead to a question about how the work gets done? If there is a lack of clarity, this could be a good place to start. Having a discussion with your team will let you know if the mission is understood, and how people see their jobs in relation to meeting the mission. It can also let you know if there is an appetite (pun intended) for doing more—whether people see additional needs that could be met—or whether the current mission is a full enough plate.