In the last 15 years or so, I have worked as a consultant to many nonprofit organizations as they undertake strategic planning, and if there’s one mantra I repeat, time after time, it’s “bigger is NOT (necessarily) better.”
Everything in our culture tells us otherwise: to children we approvingly coo, “look at how big you’ve grown!” To youth we say, “when you’re big you can do what you want…,” and so on. Size is equated with success: big houses, big cars, big everything—livin’ large.
Of course growing bigger is not always healthy: witness Hummers and cancer, both products of unbridled growth.
The pressure to grow organizational budgets and programs is unrelenting, but I think it’s a crass and easy measurement of success. So I’d like to speak for staying small, for finding a sustainable and healthy size. Growth then can be measured by impact, how much difference you can make in a community, how deeply your organization is connected to the tapestry of social order, to what degree your organization can work collaboratively with others. What if we said to ten-year-olds, “wow, look at how wise you’ve become!” ?
My thinking about this subject is influenced by the work of Margaret Wheatley. In her book, Leadership and the New Science, she posits that change happens in more than one way. The way we are most familiar with is cause-and-effect: I do one thing, and something else happens as a result. Often the ‘doing’ is made more effective by mass, weight, velocity, i.e., size—tangible measures of existence. Read the rest of this entry »