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More with less

Recently I spent time outside Michigan with a room of nonprofit professionals. As we discussed tighter budgets and higher demands, a consensus grew around a perceived shared mandate. With a weary shake of the head, one person stated their common dilemma:

We must do more with less.

The statement was received both as an unavoidable reality as well as a virtual prison sentence. It meant doing more activities with fewer people and less money. "My board just won't have it any other way." "People are suffering and need our help." "It's impossible to say No."

The phrase "more with less" took me back to a 1970's Mennonite cookbook - the "More-with-Less Cookbook." I revisited the introduction which says, "the book demonstrates clearly how we may enjoy more while eating less. There is a way of wasting less, eating less, and spending less which gives us not less but more."

Here, more with less meant more quality with less stress.

I've seen this principle at work in many arenas. Organizations that focus on fewer programs and do  them well without over-stretching their staff or budgets serve more people over time...and serve them better. Those that won't say No and keep over-stretching themselves just fight the same battles year after year after year.

We can do more with less. We can add more quality to our services, more patrons to our rolls, and more funding to our mission. We can do this with less stress, less burnout, and less tension. One key is to focus on what we can do well, and say No to the rest. Like a great tree, build a solid core and then add a little ring every year.

More with less is a long-term recipe for success, not a short-term fix.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Comments

It doesn't have to be less. The pie can get bigger if non-profits work together. Business understands this. That's how AT&T and Apple (two incredibly disparate companies) partnered. I'm sure you've heard of the iphone! While not on the same scale, the pie gets bigger when non-profits collaborate. Too many are worrying about their slice instead of working with others to make it bigger.
Good point, John. Perhaps some of our organizational over-stretching occurs we when try to increase the pie without looking to collaborative partners.
I have that same cookbook, and always enjoy reading the philosophical commentary! What a great perspective, Thom. A shift in thinking from scarcity to focused effort on what is possible can revitalize an organization. (The challenge is to get everyone on board with the idea of saying No to some things.) Thanks for this post!
You're right Cathie. Saying No is very difficult. Yet, it's critical to staying mission focused. Most of us are all too familiar with mission-creep and project-creep. No reaffirms our prior Yes's.

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