Heather Comstock Connects

Helping nonprofits and other volunteer organizations develop strong relationships and a clear voice in the community.

Volunteering and Mission Creep

If only Mission Creep were as easy to identify as this Minecraft Creeper! (from Wikimedia Commons - DarkShadows63)

If only Mission Creep were as easy to identify as this Minecraft Creeper! (from Wikimedia Commons – DarkShadows63)

My goal is to post something new at least once a month on here but I missed last month. I’ve been slogging through a time management problem – over-commitment! As I evaluated where I was spending my time I realized I had personally fallen prey to the dreaded Mission Creep!

What is Mission Creep? According to Wikipedia, “Mission creep is the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes. Mission creep is usually considered undesirable due to the dangerous path of each success breeding more ambitious attempts, only stopping when a final, often catastrophic, failure occurs“. Nonprofits fall prey to it when they don’t have strong leadership focused on the mission or they’re chasing money.

The insidiousness of Mission Creep is that victims aren’t really aware of it while it is happening to them.

The first step in killing Mission Creep is to home in on Purpose or Mission. I needed to revisit my objectives. I narrowed it down into personal and professional. I set a purpose for each area. My goals are fairly modest and I really wanted to keep it simple to avoid the danger of over-engineering this process and fooling myself into thinking I was doing something when all I was really doing was rearranging things.

The next step is to align current activities against your Purpose/Mission and evaluate whether or not they are serving it. Here’s how I did it:

Cut One: Is this related to my purpose?

I looked at all the things I did and determined whether those associations did anything to further my personal and professional goals. One volunteer job had been taken on because I was looking to gain experience in a particular area of nonprofit management. For several years I had the opportunity to learn new things, but recently, the job had become repetitive and offered no challenges. Result: I eliminated a volunteer job that no longer served any either my personal or professional goals.

Cut Two: Is it Profitable?

Let’s start with the most basic. I listed all my activities and determined which ones I had a good time doing. I highlighted the ones that I didn’t enjoy or felt kind of “meh” about. If I am giving my time, I want to get something in return. If it is paid work that is easy to value. On the other hand, if I am volunteering my time, I want to enjoy the time I spend and feel that I have accomplished something. Result: I was able to articulate the value of my activities in terms of my personal enjoyment, impact, and econcomically.

Cut Three: Is there anything redeeming about the Annoying activities?

Everything has some sort of annoyance factor. I needed to evaluate whether or not the irritation was outweighed by the result of the activity. For one of my volunteer tasks, the constant, irritating barrage of last-minute requests, disorganization, and over-emphasis of things that I felt didn’t contribute to the bottom-line made it an obvious candidate for cutting. Result: I decided to let another volunteer role go.

After evaluating my activities against mission creep here’s what I learned:

  • Just because I participate in activities doesn’t mean I have to take on a leadership role.
  • Just because I CAN do something doesn’t mean that I SHOULD  do something.
  • Just because nobody else is stepping up to keep a group going doesn’t mean I need to fill that void. The death of the group may be a good indicator that it has outlived its purpose.

Unfortunately, it has been difficult because people will continue to ask you to do things (Because they are over-committed themselves). They don’t want to accept your NO and will continue to try to find workable iterations. I am staying strong and continuing to say NO because in the long run it’s better for everyone. In some ways, now that I’ve settled on what is important, I know I have no more time to give and it has made it easier to say NO to additional requests.

What about you? Have you found yourself over-committed? How did you cull your commitments? What tactics do you use to prevent yourself from falling prey to personal mission creep?

Picture: By DarkShadows63 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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