Blueprint Creative Group

Non-profits Need to Learn When to Quit and When to Stick

I recently had a conversation with a frustrated non-profit founder…the kind of frustration where you’re stuck and don’t know what to do next and what went wrong. This non-profit was frustrated because their big, great idea for a cause campaign was failing big time — failing to pick up traction and buy-in from the media, donors, partners, and community at large.

At the same time, I picked up a cute little book (that at first glance appears to be just that but is potent for your good) written by marketing genius, Seth Godin. Like the all time favorite children’s book “The Little Engine That Could,’ this book, “The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches Us When to Quit and When to Stick,” was a little book on quitting…quitting the right thing at the right time.

Going back to the frustrated non-profit, there’s a profound statement in the book that says, “If you pick the right thing and do it all the way, that’s the easiest way to be the best in the world.” This statement is in reference to how the #1 top spot gets ten times the benefit of the #10 and 100 times the benefit of #100.

The same applies for non-profits who are at a crossroads whether it’s with their current organizational structure, a cause campaign, donor engagement, brand awareness, etc. My advice to the frustrated non-profit was that sometimes you have to know when to quit and move on. I’m not talking about quitting the organization all together but knowing when your current campaign just doesn’t resonate with your specific target for whatever reason and then going back to the drawing board to figure out why and what to do about it. In a nutshell, you have to know when to quit, pivot, or persevere. Either way, you have to reassess and refocus.

As stated in book, “Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the Right Stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other.”

So this led me think of other times when non-profits need to know when to quit, pivot, or persevere.

  • When donations have taken a dip: Look at your current donors. Who are they, and what is the profile of your top donors? Considering just the top donors, is this a viable enough segment to sustain your organization and fund programs? If not, pivot and identify the most viable donor persona that can make the biggest dent in your fund development strategy and pursue them.
  • When volunteers are the lifeblood of your non-profit, but they’re disengaged: There are some non-profits and causes that thrive on having an engaged volunteer base and it’s actually part of their business model. For example, food banks rely on the support of volunteers. However, retaining loyal volunteers can be quite challenging, and sometimes it’s as simple as tying it back to your volunteer relations, but other times poor volunteer engagement has a lot to do with value. What type of value are you creating for volunteers that will resonate and keep them engaged? Do they believe in your organization’s mission enough to want to see it thrive? Again, the decision sometimes has to be to quit a current volunteer segment or recruiting strategy and pivot with a new model for generating support. Other times, you just have to refocus volunteer relations and drive value.
  • When an idea seems so great but isn’t gaining any traction: Ever had an idea for a campaign or a cause program that seemed so phenomenal that there’s no way it could fail, yet no one believed in it or supported it other than your internal team? Well, that happens quite often. An idea can seem so great but fail miserably at resonating with people. Sometimes it’s because the idea isn’t well positioned to the right people, at the right time, and with the right message. In this case, the decision usually is to pivot instead of quit or persevere.

There are dozens of other situations when a non-profit needs to decide whether to quit, pivot, or persevere. Unfortunately, sometimes we take too long to notice the damage and do something about it. Often times that’s because there aren’t adequate metrics and control systems put in place.  Above all, strategic quitting can spell the secret of a successful organization.Has your non-profit been faced with the decision to quit, pivot, or persevere? What was your decision and how did that affect your organization and the pursuit of your mission?