Board and committees often propose projects that they claim will bring in lots of money, won’t require any money or staff time, are horribly complicated and misguided, and divert staff and money from other important projects. In short, the board or committee (or even staff) focuses on the “bright shiny object” to the detriment of other programs and services. The reverse of this scenario is when projects don’t produce money nor do they keep or retain members (and may not even be in line with the organization’s mission), but the board refuses to terminate them. Then those once shiny objects become rusty pieces of junk costing the association resources and staff time but not helping increase revenue or visibility of the association.
Often times, board or staff members fund these bright shiny objects, or programs, by either writing grants or using surpluses or endowment funds. The problem is that even if the project is funded initially (whether through grants, sponsorships or the organization’s own funding), these new programs require staff time and continued resources. Maybe the money will last through the launch of the project or program, but will it be able to sustain itself after the funding ends? Will there be adequate staff to continue the project? Was there adequate research done on the program before it was launched to determine if it truly adds benefit and is needed at the association?
Here are five ways to help prevent “bright shiny objects” showing up at the association and then becoming rusty pieces of junk:
- Make sure the board members and committee members are familiar with the strategic plan. When a new program is proposed, ask how it fits into the strategic plan. This is not designed to thwart innovation because certainly there are opportunities for projects and programs that come up outside the plan and turn out to be important programs to the association. However, asking this question helps thwart projects that derail the association and its other programs.
- Insist that the plan for the bright shiny object contains an accurate budget. This not only includes the costs of starting the project but the costs to continue the project (including staff costs).
- Research, research, research. Ask for research that supports the development of the project. Is there a need among members? Will it benefit most of the members or only a few?
- Have a grants policy in place. The grants policy should specify that all grant proposals (since they usually involve staff and money outside the grant) should be approved by the board and chief executive officer and help further the goals of the organization. A grant should not be a way just to get extra money for an additional project that will do nothing to forward the strategic plan and the association. In short, don’t create a bright shiny object just to obtain money from a foundation.
- Have a method for evaluating programs so if the association creates a new program, and it helps move the organization forward but later becomes a burden to the organization, there is a way to evaluate the program so it can either be improved or eliminated. Mary Byers and Harrison Coerver’s book, Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations, has a program and service evaluation matrix that is very useful in helping staff and board look objectively at programs and services to determine if that program or service has outlived its usefulness.