Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Blame Game

If I can blame you for all my problems, then I don’t have to face facts or—heaven forefend—reality. Kids do that a lot. It’s not my fault, they say, as if that solved anything. But kids grow up and we can hope that in growing up, they learn to take responsibility.

What about organizations? What happens when the organizational culture is one of pointing fingers rather than finding real solutions? Of refusing to accept culpability for bad or even neutral things?

Pointing fingers can wear many different guises. The organization who “can’t fundraise” because they “don’t have resources,” is playing the blame game just as much as the man who says his failures are all his mother’s fault.

It’s not, of course, just about fundraising, though organizational attitudes about fundraising do have implications that reach far and wide.

There are ongoing discussions about what nonprofits are and are not. Some of those discussions center around financial issues: Can or should a nonprofit actually be profitable?

Personally, I’ve always thought this as bogus. Yes, clearly what sets nonprofits apart from for-profits is the focus—the latter on earnings, the former on mission. And yes, frequently, perhaps always, that mission is by definition something that cannot pay for itself, let alone make surplus dollars. But the organization always has other options for earning revenue. Beyond that, the organization has an obligation to spend what monies it does have wisely.

So OK, the core mission is a money-suck. The nonprofit is always scrambling to meet payroll, to pay vendors, to keep moving its mission forward. Organizations whose culture is one of accountability and responsibility, of understanding that part of running the organization is ensuring its fiscal health, seem do well.

Those organizations somehow understand that fundraising is as important a part of the organization as are the programs. It isn’t someone else’s responsibility—it is everyone’s. That doesn’t mean that every staff member and volunteer goes out and asks people for money. It does mean that development must be incorporated into the organization. As plans are made and budgets are developed, fundraising must be considered.

Every professional fundraiser will tell you that the hardest money to raise is unrestricted dollars….unless you can clearly show how that money will make a difference in your mission and why that mission matters.

Think about it. If someone asks for $1,000 to allow her to do what she does, your reaction won’t include reaching for your checkbook. But if that same person were to explain to you that the salary she gets from her part-time job leaves her $1,000 short in order to pay her school tuition, you may at least consider it. And if she can show you why her school tuition is important not just to her but also to you, odds are you will be moved to help.

Organizations where the leadership—and make no mistake, culture flows from the top—blame others for their failures do no service to the missions they claim to serve. It’s not the board’s fault that the needed funds did not come in; it’s not the development director’s fault if his job description wasn’t clear and no one bothered to monitor what he was doing, and it certainly isn’t the fault of those who haven’t given, especially if they haven’t been appropriately asked!

In fact, assigning blame for things that are less than successful is a losing proposition. It takes you off task, allows you to duck and not do what you should be doing. Far better to identify what the problem really is, and to create a real plan of attack that will if not completely solve at least begin to mitigate the problem. Who knows? If you stop playing the blame game, you may find yourself involved in activities with far better outcomes, ones that lead to success.


Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com. Her online grantwriting class is available at www.janetlevineconsulting.com/classes.html.

3 comments:

Cate Malek said...

Thank you for this post. Our development team just found out that a big grant proposal we submitted earlier this year was rejected. It's good for me to read this so we can move on from blaming ourselves to problem solving.

janet said...

Don't lose sight of the fact that more than one in eleven grants get rejected. It may not be that you did anything wrong. If you haven't already gotten readers' comments (for a federal grant) or feedback from the private foundations, don't forget to request them. They can be a great start to getting better scores and funded next time around

Cate Malek said...

Thanks for this tip. We will make sure to follow up.