The CEO of Metro’s largest charity has concluded the only way to implement best practices in her organization is to burn down their building and start again.
Spooley Snidely, CEO of the Community Trust Foundation of Metro, came to the conclusion while attending a national charity best practices conference in New York. The two day event convinced her that her charity was hopelessly inadequate on almost every major task and that the only solution was to destroy everything and start from scratch.
“As I sat through each session on everything from finance and HR to marketing and fundraising I realized that we sucked in every possible way,” Snidely said. “On a few things we just were very, very bad. But on most we were truly hopeless. The only way I could see us improving would be to blow up the building.”
The Foundation’s board had asked Snidely to put the organization on a course of renewal based on benchmarks from the charity sector. But when she got to the two day conference she realized that no amount of minor change could fix their problems. That’s when she got the idea about taking change management to a whole new level.
“I decided to look at what others have done when faced with an unmovable situation,” she said.
Snidely says she took inspiration from other walks of life. When doctors can’t save an infected finger they amputate it. When customers in a fast-food restaurant in a major US urban center realize they didn’t get the right order they open fire with their handguns. When Vikings couldn’t get money from communities they visited on their journeys they just burned down the village, slaughtered all the cattle and sold all the people into slavery. She said these examples showed her the only solution was to start over.
The Foundation faces a number of challenges that simply cannot be solved. The charity’s finances are connected like a bunch of Christmas tree lights and Snidely says their finance manager is so hated and despised that nothing can get done. Their fundraisers try very hard, but they can’t seem to meet the ever-increasing targets that Snidely has set for them. The administrative staff ask too many questions and demand to be treated in a transparent fashion. The Foundations’ website doesn’t look as nice as the foundation across the street and their social media is boring. Snidely says everywhere she looks she finds impossible barriers to doing what she knows to be right.
“I tried really hard to think of another way,” she said. “I thought maybe we could just do another organizational chart change or maybe fire some more staff or maybe just charge more money for the miserable coffee we sell in the lunch room or something. But we’ve done all of those things before and we haven’t improved. We needed to do something drastic.”
Burning down their building and starting again, perhaps under a new name, will have a number of advantages, Snidely said. The Foundation would be able to jettison all the old ways of doing things that the organization has been unable to change. They would also be able to replace many of the workers, some of whom have been unable to embrace change. They could also replace their clunky fundraising database with new, state-of-the-art one. Under a new name, they wouldn’t have to carry the weight of the bad reputation they have created. And Snidely could get a bigger office, with perhaps her own coffee machine.
“It’s going to be a sad day when I pour all that fertilizer and gasoline over everything, light a match and go for a nice, long lunch, but I know that when I return we will be much better off,” said Snidely.
“We want to be the best charity we can be and if that means we have to break a few eggs to do it, so be it,” she said as she removed the batteries from the smoke detectors in her office.