Mission Accomplished. Now What?

The phrase “Mission Accomplished!” has gotten a bad reputation in recent years, but it’s one that some wonderful organizations are starting to embrace—and that would make Peter Drucker smile.

The mini-trend was noted in a recent New York Times article about nonprofits “going out of business,” not because they’re suffering financially but because they have met their mission.

In his 1990 book, Managing the Nonprofit OrganizationDrucker wrote that organizations need to revisit their missions often to “think through whether it needs to be refocused because demographics change” or “because we have accomplished our objective.”

Drucker, who advised many leading nonprofits along with his stable of corporate clients, would have been especially impressed by the work of Malaria No More, whose former vice chairman, Scott Case, was quoted in the Times article. “We never planned to be around forever. We have thought of this more as a project than as an institution-building exercise,” said Case. “And the project is nearing its completion.”

For his part, Drucker took issue with organizations that continue to exist beyond the completion of their missions. He explained, for example, that once the polio vaccine was invented, “the March of Dimes should have dissolved itself. They should have said, ‘We have accomplished what we were out to do . . . Let’s have a huge bash, drink a lot of champagne and go out of business.’”

Staying in business after meeting its stated mission, said Drucker, turned the March of Dimes into an organization that spent 50 years “inventing purposes. They haven’t accomplished anything,” he chided, “not a thing, except 20 jobs for overpaid people.”

Echoing Drucker’s idea, Case explained that his organization was ultimately more effective as a result of knowing that it would dissolve upon meeting its mission. “We didn’t have to worry as much about protecting the brand,” said Case, “so we could be edgier and think outside of the box more.”

What do you think? Should more nonprofits be putting themselves out of business?