“To what purpose?” my friend and colleague Leslie Robin asked.  What a great question.  I’m one who always thinks, “What am I trying to accomplish?”  What, I always want to know before I do something, is the outcome.  But purpose—that takes it to a whole new level. The specifics we were talking about was a revamping of my website.  I was frustrated because my web person seems to have gone MIA, which would mean going through the painful (to me) process of totally redoing my site, moving my hosting—all opening up cans of worms that were, quite frankly, making me hyperventilate.

I had asked myself what I wanted to have at the end of the process, but I hadn’t really thought about whether this was a good use of my time, my energy, and my money.

I can—and do—make changes to the copy on most of my pages, so 95% of the information is up to date. Besides, my client load is pretty hefty at the moment, and most of my clients are either repeat or they come via referrals.

So truly, given where I am at this very moment, is my website worth worrying about—or can it wait until I can focus on it, and/or, perhaps, my web person reappears (which I fervently hope happens).

Outcomes are a hot topic now for funders and those who rate organizations.  They want outcomes that are quantitatively measurable and they want those measurements to be experience based.  But sometimes outcomes aren’t what you need to focus on.  Or, rather, aren’t the only thing on which you should be focusing.

Purpose is a good thing to question.  Another way to look at that is “Why is this necessary at this moment in time?”

“To what purpose,” is exactly the right thing to question.

For example, a number of my clients have embarked on campaigns of one form or another—and with campaigns comes the perceived need for case statements.  But for some of my clients, the time spent on developing material to show why support for this campaign is necessary does not really move the campaign forward.  Maybe later it will be important, but now their focus is on current supporters—people who already believe in the organization and simply need to be informed of the campaign and introduced to the idea of making a rather large gift.

If the organization has a full complement of fundraising and marketing staff—sure, go for it.  But if, as with most of my clients, fundraising and marketing sits in an office of one, perhaps resources would be better spent meeting one on one with those supporters and talking with them about the campaign.

I will continue to ask (and I think you should, too) what I want to accomplish before I set out to do something.  But then I will ask Leslie’s question:  To what purpose? That way I can help to ensure that I am not only going in the right direction, but that I am on the right path for getting where I want to go.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to define direction.  Learn more at http://janetlevineconsulting.com.