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Go Jump in a Lake!

Although Ira Gershwin said, “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” that is not the case for most non-profit arts and culture groups, including those which operate on an academic calendar or June 30 fiscal year. The quest to generate more resources to reach more people is a 365 day a year, 24/7 endeavor, which is why no one in the arts holds a “mission accomplished” celebration.

While passion for an organization’s public service mission is laudable and perseverance essential to success, there is a risk of failure when a non-profit does not manage its administrative resources as carefully as those for its programs. This requires resisting pressure to reduce staff below minimum levels without reducing program scope, as well as not giving into the corollary temptation to increase programs without insuring they are adequately staffed.

This is not to suggest that non-profit leaders should be profligate; conserving organizational resources must always be a priority. In this quest, however, leaders should avoid the resource drain of “perfectionism” that can result from an inexorable, unrealistic pursuit of excellence. Every client I work with has “excellence” or “quality” as a core value, as it should be. Yet any strength can become a weakness, if it is not regulated properly. As non-profit social media expert and author Beth Kanter points out in a recent blog post about non-profit workplace stress, “Perfectionism is an internal mindset where we tell ourselves that bad things in the world will happen if our campaign, program or whatever is not perfect from the beginning, delivered with 500% [effort] and on a self-determined, but unrealistic deadline. Perfectionism is the enemy of learning and ultimately of getting improved impact. It also makes work life really stressful.”

Kanter also provides a link to a 99U.com article called Satisficing, which she says is “the act of stepping back and stopping that perfectionism behavior — and feeling that good enough is okay.  Many people who work in the nonprofit sector are driven by passion for their work because we are doing good and many of us share being over achievers. So, it is hard for us not to give our complete energy, even at the expense of our well-being and stressing ourselves out.”

So, as summer starts, perhaps it is time for those of us who have committed our professional lives to the non-profit sector to respond to an unreasonable request for perfection by telling the person asking to “go jump in a lake.” If that is not possible, at the very least I encourage you all to take a literal swim in a lake, before getting back to work.

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One Response to Go Jump in a Lake!

  1. Jerry Yoshitomi says:

    Joe;
    Thank you very much for this as I’m working on the 6th draft of report for a client.

    I’m also reminded of Voltaire: perfect is the enemy of the good.

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