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How to Identify and Deal with Mission Drift

From time to time, all organizations drift away from their mission because they are chasing the money. This can occur in the organization’s infancy because they are desperate to get started and make an impact. It can occur in mid-level organizations as well when the staff is plentiful, and all eyes are on you to continue doing good work. If financial desperation sets in, mission drifting is likely to happen.


It is critical that you understand what mission drift is and how to identify it before you are too far into the drift - you can listen to more information on the Change Agentz Podcast entitled “Are You Drifting: What’re the Signs?”, or prevent drifting all together – “Avoiding the Drift”. Here are some of the key indicators that your organization is about to enter or suffering from mission drift:


Money First Mentality. It doesn’t matter if it matches your mission or not, and this is an early indicator of mission drift. If you are motivated purely but getting money into the organization’s bank account and not on fulfilling the organization’s mission, you are entering the realm of mission drift. The programs and services you are looking to fund should be directly related to the organization's mission, and you should never be looking at funding sources outside of your mission.


Make sure you are clear on your mission. Post it up in your office so that it is always visible. Make sure that the staff and board members know it well. You can also find out more by watching. This will also help to prevent mission drift.

Wanting Stardom. If your organization – Board Members and Executive Director are only interested in being showcased on television and news articles, mission drift is not far behind. What happens is that you start coming up with all types of gimmicky stunts to keep people interested and talk. Most times, this is not rooted in the organization’s mission. The organization’s mission should always be the focus, allowing it to impact the community.



High Turnover Rates. As we have established, mission inconsistency leads to mission drift, but mission drift also leads to a high turnover rate in staff and board members. Why? No one wants to work in crisis mode constantly. They don’t want to work in a place continuously on the financial edge, and they start questioning the stability and sustainability of the organization. People work with organizations because of their mission. If they don’t see that mission being fulfilled, they will leave and find another organization to work with that truly impacts their area of interest.



Ethics and Morality. If you find that your staff and board members are constantly questioning the validity of your partnerships, you are in mission drift. If you bring a partnership idea to your key decision-makers and most of the questions they have during the decision-making process are ethics, moral, or mission-related, this is your first clue that this is not the partnership you should be pursuing. Go back to the table and create a partnership avatar that will help you quickly identify potential partners that the board will embrace because you are on a mission.



Disinterest and Boredom. After doing something for years, you can start losing interest or focus, and the monotony of the cause can be daunting, especially if it seems like there isn’t a dent being made. This can cause you to slow down and start focusing your energy on lower-hanging fruit that may be easily rectified but has nothing to do with your mission.



Fickle Board. Sometimes you just don’t have the right people at the helm. They are not committed to the mission, have their own agenda, or are disconnected from the staff and community. When this happens, the mission drift can be swift and chaotic. Because they have the power to make decisions, it sometimes becomes challenging to get back to mission work. This is why there needs to be a sold selection process for choosing the right board members.



Stressed Executive Director. If you have an ED that feels pressured to make the numbers – client, impact, financial, etc., that ED might start engaging in mission drift activities to make the organization appear successful and low hanging fruit mission-center or not is always easiest to pick.


If you are in the social impact industry, you need to keep the organization's mission at the forefront of every decision you make for the organization. This will help you to maximize your efforts, meet your expected outcomes, and create impact. Just stay away from the mission drift traps discussed above, and you’ll be on the path to successful mission impact.



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