The Activity Review: How to Sacrifice Your Sacred Cows

One of the trickiest activities nonprofit undertake is closing out existing services. You hope things will get better. You shut our eyes and wish. Sometimes even to suggest a tweak to a declining program is treason. After all, it is more fun and exciting to add activities.

Why Sacrificing Sacred Cows is Necessary

Favorites age. You outgrow them. And, they bore you. A donor whispers to another donor, “Been there, done that.”
Once stellar, but now shrinking activities, drain you and your resources. They limit your forward momentum. An Ohio nonprofit looked the other way as their cash cow shrivels. They keep avoiding reality until the organization folds. Being willing to sacrifice a sacred cow is an act of faith. It can be an act of survival.
Examine your “cows.” If necessary, close them. You’ll gain new resources for your most effective efforts.

Sacred Cow Slaughter Recommendations

  1. Establish criteria. What must your activities do? What do you want them to do?
  2. Each year, review every activity, including programs, events, fundraisers, etc. against the criteria. You might, for example, think “firecracker” and make it your organization’s annual July 4th Freedom Ritual during the summer when you are less busy.
  3. Create an advisory group filled with creative, outside-the-box thinkers. Ask them for advice on mediocre performers. How might each so-so activity be tweaked or changed? Or, closed?
  4. Generate a closure experience that honors the effort. Consider Marie Kondo’s approach. Thank your sacred cows before discarding.

Benefits of Activity Review

Here are some of the benefits of this valuable and straightforward activity:

  • You have more time, energy, and resources to focus on your top performers.
  • You gain time to pilot solutions for weak cows before its too late. (Click here for to discover the dangers of downward spirals.)
  • You inspire accountability and innovation. People who love a sacred cow find ways to tweak it.
  • Bottom line growth, including community, money, and mission

Email me for a consultation to establish your criteria for closing a program. I’ll share an example criteria list and help you to use it.

Karen Eber Davis

Before founding her firm, Karen Eber Davis developed the Sarasota County Community Development Block Grant Program. Under her leadership, this infant program received the National Association of Counties National Affordable Housing Award for the Down Payment Assistance Program. To date, the program helped over 1,800 families realize their dreams of homeownership. She also worked with the City of Ft. Lauderdale and the Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, where she developed the division’s first audit program. In an earlier position at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Tampa, she organized senior, youth, and children groups plus family activities. Her youth staffing work with the Florida Synod of the Lutheran Church in America supported youth ministries in 120 congregations in Florida.