August 4, 2017

The Program Eval: How to Sacrifice Sacred Cows, if Needed

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 Program and Activity Reviews

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

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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