Beware when your organization goes adrift from its core purpose
This is nothing new. Organizations go adrift from their original purpose, forget their organizational DNA—and then, at the time of reckoning, they do not even recognize their original selves.
That is “mission drift,” according to a new book of the same title, jointly authored by Peter Greer and Chris Horst. “Mission unfolds slowly,” the authors say. “Like a current, it carries organizations away from their core purpose and identity.”
Two universities adrift? The authors, first off, cite two among many examples of this “drift.” They mention Harvard and Yale. Consider this mission statement: “To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.” They reveal that this statement is from Harvard University, which began as a school to equip ministers to share the Good News.
The book says Harvard soon “became secularized,” thus some religious leaders sought to establish what they thought would be a “new stronghold of Christian higher education in 1701.” So Yale was organized in 1718. Yale’s motto was not just “Veritas” (truth) like Harvard, but “Lux at Veritas” (light and truth). But Yale also was overcome by pervasive secularization.
The authors are quick to clarify that their “contention is not with the institutions Harvard and Yale are today. It’s with the institutions they are not. Their founders were unmistakably clear with their goals: Academic excellence and Christian formation. Today they do something very different from their founding purpose.”
These are two cases of mission drift. And such a drift has been pervasive among many more leaders, charities, churches and other faith-based organizations.
The book cites the Christian Children’s Fund, which in 1994, served nearly two million orphaned children, working with a budget of 100 million dollars. The Fund was named by Forbes, in 2001, as one of the 100 largest charities in the country. A decade later, a charity watchdog issued a “donor alert” warning about the Fund’s mission drift.
“An organization changes slowly, and then all of a sudden you realize the changes have happened so much that you need to step back and see if you are putting out the name that really reflects who you are. True enough, in 2009, the organization dropped the “Christian” in its name and renamed it ChildFund International.
In contrast, compassion International, which also responded to the needs of orphaned children was organized in 1952. Today, Compassion serves over 1.3 million children across 26 countries. The organization’s “commitment to the Gospel has not waned.” This organization, the book says, is “Mission True.”
“Mission True” organizations know why they exist, and they protect their core at all costs. They remain faithful to what they believe God has entrusted them to do. They define what is immutable in their values and purposes, their DNA, their heart and soul.”
Do Mission True organizations ever change? Greer and Horst agree: “In fact, their understanding of their core identity will demand they change. And their understanding of Scripture will demand they strive for the very highest levels of excellence.”
Organizations can adapt and grow, so long as they don’t lose their core identity.
Fidelity to your core. Mission True organizations decide that their destiny matters, and then become fanatically focused on remaining faithful to their core.
The authors quote Paul himself who concluded his ministry career thus: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Contrast that to what Julius Ceasar said: “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Paul’s theme is fidelity to a cause to the very end. Ceasar’s theme is all about conquest.
Mission True organizations believe the Gospel is their most precious asset. It is not a sect-driven organization. It is a Gospel-inspired movement that transcends sectarian barriers, so long that it is Christ-centered.
The authors narrated the story of an atheist who declared that his own atheistic beliefs are insufficient to solve the issues of corruption and poverty in our world. Referring to charity work in Africa, atheist Matthew Parris, a British journalist, wrote in the London Times: “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.”
The book authors emphasize that organizations which are “faith-based” bring in “the language of the sacred” that are also key to fidelity to a cause. The virtues of forbearance, mystery, suffering, hope, finitude, surrender, divine purpose, and redemption sustain the social worker.”
Quoting Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s chief rabbi once said: “Much can and must be done by governments, but they cannot of themselves, change lives … It needs religion: Not as doctrine but as a shaper of behavior, a tutor in morality, an ongoing seminar in self-restraint, and pursuit of the common good.”
The YMCA drift. The authors write of George Williams, a young man who began a Bible study program for the youths in the London slums in 1844. That group soon became the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). YMCA’s founding motto came from Jesus’ prayer “that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that Thou has sent me.”
But after many years, something has changed. “With revenue declining, the YMCA decided to emphasize its fitness programs and downplay its biblical training” according to Greer and Horst. That was in the seventies and eighties.
So, how does one prevent a “mission drift”?
The first prescription, according to the book, is to organize a Board which will keep the organization true to its mission. The book suggests five imperatives: First, recruit carefully and prayerfully; second, hold the CEO responsible for the mission; third, follow standard board practices; fourth, create policies and safeguards, and fifth, remember the mission.”
The book cites the central force that keeps an organization Mission True. The book introduces a Filipino leader in this book with the introductory statement: “One of our friends and heroes is Ruth Callanta,” adding: “Though Callanta is five feet tall, she is a giant of faith and models tenacious “humbition” (humility plus ambition). Callanta leads the Center for Community Transformation (CCT).
The book devoted ten long paragraphs to CCT, which began and has flourished as a microfinancing firm, making micro-entrepreneurs from the marginalized.
This book should be read by all organizational heads—they who run profit or nonprofit companies. And then this book must be within reach for occasional “status check,” just in case one’s firm has begun drifting away from the “core purpose.”
The book concludes: “Drift. The very word conjures images of a boat blown by the wind and led by the currents. Lacking a clear destination. Floating aimlessly.”
Therefore, drop your anchor —and focus on faithfulness, on your core identity. [email protected]