July 27, 2017

Frog, Pot, Boiling Water: Hot Lessons to Solve Your Sustainably Challenge

In my years of consulting I’ve noticed a pattern that parallels the urban legend involving a frog, pot, and boiling water. The tale postulates that a frog placed in hot water immediately jumps out. In contrast, a frog placed in cool water stays even if you ignite a burner it.
Likewise, organizations that experience abrupt threats to their sustainability act. Too often entities confronted with slow deterioration dawdle, even as conditions decay and options vanish. Some defer action until closure becomes a must.
Let me explain more and how to avoid the danger.

Who Needs Sustainability? How Do You Get It? 

Sustainability is the ability of an organization to remain diverse and productive indefinitely.
Every organization, business and nonprofit, needs a sustainability strategy. Boards and management determine strategies. Strategies outline how you will win. Nonprofits win by generating more mission, money, and community, businesses by profits.

How Long Do Sustainability Strategies Last? 

It varies. Some organizations generate strategies that last multiple lifetimes. Even though Macy’s (founded 1858), Sear’s (1893), and J. C. Penny’s (1902) now need fresh strategies, their process of bringing customers to stores succeeded for generations. Others refine their strategies much sooner. Consider Netflix’s move from mail to mostly digital delivery. Given the current political climate, nonprofits that depend on government funding must design new strategies, even as they continue to hope for the best. However, government cuts aren’t the only threats to sustainability. Risks stem from internal and external sources such as reliance on few donors, changing customer expectations, and technology disruptions.

What Happens When Sustainably Strategies Slowly Deteriorate? 

Nimble organizations act. Time and resources allow you to identify and perfect new strategies. Delay eliminates choices. The longer the runway, the more options pilots have to land the plane.
The illustration below reflects an organization’s dwindling choices over time. In the top box, by acting now, the group finds four sustainability paths. If the organization delays, hoping things will get better, the endowment option disappears. Waiting even longer, in the third box, strong collaborative partners lose interest. Finally, on the bottom, the group can’t find resources to launch a new service. Their sole option becomes site consolidation.

What Can You Do?

Notice temperature changes. Even if the changes are just a market blip, jump to the edge of the pot. From here, identify your sustainability possibilities. Pick the best and act. Request a consultation with Karen to assess your sustainability and options.


Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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