The Farm Stand That Lost Its Way

I love the local farm stands that dot the country roads at this time of the year. Filled with colorful bushel baskets of just-picked corn, tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, strawberries and blueberries, they call to me to pull over and indulge in the season’s bounty.

So, imagine my outrage a few weeks ago, when a stop at a Connecticut roadside farm stand with all the promise of providing the ripe ingredients of farm fresh meal, instead delivered a big display of California oranges, lemons and avocados as well as some Washington State cherries – but no local corn!

Okay, it’s been a wet season here in the northeast and a farmer has to make a buck even if the corn isn’t ready for picking. But there is something wrongheaded about a business approach that refutes the very essence of the farm stand experience. I stop at the stand because I want to inhale that earthy smell of produce that just came from the field. I want to see those stripes of mud on the cucumbers and tomatoes. I do not go there to buy sad looking, cross-country trucked-in oranges and cherries. For that, I can go to the local Stop and Shop.

An old colleague and frequent blogger at eJewish Philanthropy, Steven Donshik, recently wrote here about how tempting it is for organizations to accept donor funding for projects that fall outside their mission. It’s what I call “mission-creep.” So, like the farmer who caves in by filling his bushels with out-of-state- produce, an organization whose mission is to serve the needy but takes funding for an arts program, is drifting dangerously away from its core mission.

As Steve noted, “When the board of directors and the professional staff are aligned with each other in their understanding of the agency’s mission and how to best implement the mission then a clear message is communicated to donors, clients and the community…… Such a message instills a sense of confidence and attracts supporters instead of raising questions about there being a lack of direction and raising questions about the integrity of the organization’s mission. Sometimes it is better to pass up responding to an “RFP” and to work harder at doing what the agency does best.”

Dedication to mission is central to building organizational reputation and trust. And, if you move away from your core mission of delivering your organization’s version of farm fresh corn and tomatoes, you just may be sending your donors shopping elsewhere.

Mission matters. Marketing an organization’s mission only works if you stay true to it.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.