Not long ago, I took time to read Hope Runs by @claire. Through a few Twitter convos on the subject, my friend @andrewhomrich connected me with @chrischancey of Hope International and he was kind enough to send me a copy of Mission Drift. I am glad he did. I gleaned a lot of wisdom not only for my work at DeMoss but also for any charitable organization I get personally involved with. Our agency, DeMoss, works with faith-based organizations. Some are more explicitly evangelistic than others but many have social good endeavors. It's tempting to want to encourage them to take a more watered-down approach to their messaging in order to avoid criticism, especially online. An organization could be doing a lot of great and beneficial things to make the world a better place, whether it's digging wells in Africa, rebuilding homes after natural disasters or fighting the spread of disease. However, if God is brought up in the equation, the chance of attack by outside commentary increases substantially - potentially harming the group and its ability to continue operating (depending on severity).
Mission Drift argues against the notion of taking God out of the messaging. While it makes sense (and I still believe that there is a time/place for evangelism) to skirt around a faith-based organization's initial mission focused on their initial roots, focusing on God and telling others about him at the end of the day should still remain the focus, especially if it's part of the organization's root identity. Faith-based or not, straying from a company's successful founding identity over time rarely reaps positive long-term rewards.
The book points out many institutions that started out with evangelistic roots that I wasn't aware of. Harvard was a faith-centered institution in its inception. The YMCA was very faith oriented. Mission Drift also points out how several other charitable organizations started out faith-based but "drifted" away from their root missions due to things like public ridicule, board member pressure or even due to donor funding.
The Donor Paradox
The most interesting point I gleaned from the book came from donor funding. The writers of the book, leaders of the micro-financing organization Hope International, talk about their own experiences in this arena. Many times, some organizations are offered a lot of money if they tone down or eliminate their religious language.
On the surface, it seems logical to eliminate. How much good could the organization do with that extra cash? The intent on that trade-off appears innocent enough. However, the historical data provided in the book shows that the organizations that "drifted" from their mission in the name of large donations, more often than not, struggled long term. The authors talked about how they lost a major corporate sponsor as a result of not toning down their faith-rhetoric but still managed to not only survive - but also thrive as an organization.
Staying on Mission: Lessons from the Ritz Carlton and Nordstrom
How does any company, faith-based or otherwise, remain on mission? The authors present examples from the corporate world on how they re-enforce their corporate mission and purpose every single day. Faith-based organizations may start the week in devotion. A company like the Ritz Carlton, mentioned in the book, empowers its employees with a $2,000 make good budget for each customer, reinforcing its corporate mission of best-in-class customer service. Other companies may have different rituals or traditions that keep the original identity of the company alive and thriving. I loved how the authors pulled in examples that weren't faith-based (like the Ritz, to reinforce their points of effectively maintaining a consistent (and successful) corporate culture.
DeMoss Client Counsel Takeaways
The book covers many faith-based charities and social good organizations, many of which have been clients of our agency at one point in time. Taking time to read it has made me more empathetic to the daily decisions that our clients have to make in maintaining their identities. The wisdom offered in this book - how to stay on mission, creating a company culture that last for more than one generation, rituals and routines, etc - will definitely help me in any client work I have going forward. DeMoss and anything beyond.
If you work for a nonprofit or charitable organization, sit on the board of one, or even donate money to a charity or cause, this is definitely worth the read.