You know them when you see them: a newsletter that’s looked the same for ages. A resource library that’s always empty. A rack of handouts that no one stops to look at anymore. A special event with dwindling attendance. A workshop that needs more and more and more marketing to get it filled.
At one point these programs were fresh and everyone felt good about them. Now they’re stale and musty, and it’s just easier not to think about them.
Such stale programs bring to mind the iconic American fruitcake. Home-baked and sent by an aunt far away, a fruitcake symbolizes a problematic gift: you don’t want to eat it . . . but you feel guilty throwing it away, too. So the fruitcake sits on your kitchen counter for months, taking up space and getting even more stale.
By the time a program has grown stale, there have usually been some efforts made to revive it. You’ve added computers to the resource library. The newsletter format was updated. The special event was jazzed up. But it’s still not really working.
With both the stale program and the fruitcake, there are ultimately only two choices: throw it away, or give it away. Face the reality that the fruitcake won’t suddenly get delicious, so either throw it away (compost it!), or give it to a friend. (Of course, once the friend receives it, the cycle may well start all over.)
It’s not easy to close down any program or activity. We cling to the hope that it can and will be improved someday. Or perhaps it’s the pet project of a staffperson or a board member. Or perhaps we put a lot of effort into it and it feels as if that effort would be wasted if we were to close or divest the program. Remember that if an activity is EITHER having a significant positive impact in the world, OR is making money for your organization, you should probably keep it. But if NEITHER is true, you may have a stale fruitcake on your hands. Letting it continue in its weak, moldering way doesn’t speak well for your organization. Don’t let it sit on your kitchen counter another year.
* This issue: both legal and sensible advice on board votes via email, amazing nonprofit factoids, a First Person Nonprofit story, and please, take two minutes to take the Blue Avocado Reader Survey in Queries below.
P.S. I know, I know, some of you love fruitcake. Rather than writing your paeons of fruitcake praise just to us on the Blue Avocado staff, please share your recipes and fruitcake stories by adding a Comment to this article. Thanks! –Jan Masaoka