Peter Greer joined HOPE in July 2004, following extensive education and experience in the field of microfinance. Peter received a B.S. in International Business from Messiah College, an M.P.P. with a concentration in Political and Economic Development from Harvard’s Kennedy School, and an honorary doctorate from Erskine College. Prior to his education at Harvard, Peter served as Managing Director for URWEGO Community Banking in Kigali, Rwanda, for three years. He also served as a technical advisor for Self-Help Development Foundation (CARE Zimbabwe) in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and worked as a microfinance advisor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Peter speaks and writes on the topic of faith and international development and is the coauthor of The Poor Will Be Glad, Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, The, and Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches.
KW: Can you share a story that contributed toward your desire to write on the topic of Mission Drift?
PG: On the top floor of a Houston high rise, I sat across from a senior executive of a global oil and gas corporation. He led the company’s charitable giving. The executive proposed an offer – We’ll provide significant funding. But since we’re a publicly traded company, we just need you to down your Christ-centered mission.
Cash-strapped, we desperately wanted to find a way of partnering. But this meeting prompted us to actively research Mission Drift and learn from others who have scaled, professionalized, and remained on the mission.
While researching, we found that Mission Drift wasn’t just an issue facing HOPE. In a survey of hundreds of Christian leaders at the Q conference in Los Angeles in 2013, 95 percent said Mission Drift was a challenging issue for faith-based nonprofit organizations.
KW: What are some of the major warning signs of mission drift?
PG: Here are a few warning signs we discovered through our research:
- “It couldn’t happen to me.” No organizations—even those with “Christian” in their name or strong leaders—are exempt from the natural course of Mission Drift. Drift is the natural path for all organizations.
- Boards matter. Even one board member not enthusiastic about the whole mission can dramatically impact your organization’s direction. Yet, we often do not have systems in place to fully evaluate board members for full mission fit.
- Pain avoidance. The conflict reflects a healthy organization. The fastest way for Mission Drift to devastate a Christ-centered identity is to avoid making tough decisions.
- Celebrating only financial indicators. Monitoring financial metrics is critically important. But make sure you are measuring and celebrating your full mission—otherwise what’s not measured becomes irrelevant.
- Hiring. Your staff is the champions of your mission. And small compromises on staffing can lead to major organizational changes.
- Follow the money. Supporters shape your future: Are you receiving funding that may cause you to compromise your mission?
- Succession planning. Mission Drift often happens at the moment of leadership transition. Succession planning, promoting internally, and building staff capacity is crucial to staying Mission True. We were told that without careful attention, the passions of the first generation = preferences of the second generation = irrelevant to the third generation.
- Remember your story. Consistently we found that Mission True organizations were storytellers, communicating the vision of the founders each generation.
- Lack of clarity. Know why you exist. If you don’t, those inside and outside your organization won’t understand either.
- Prayer and dependence. Mission True organizations incorporate prayer as a key part of culture believing without God’s presence, we can do nothing. At 11:00 a.m. at International Justice Mission (IJM) the laptops close, the phones go silent. And the entire office—hundreds of employees—pray together.
KW: What is one of the biggest things you discovered in your research on Mission True and Mission Untrue organizations?
PG: In our research, we discovered how similar organizations sounded at their founding, yet how different they look today. Consider the YMCA (now known as the Y) and InterVarsity: Founded within a few decades of each other in the 1800s, both started as Bible studies in England.
Today, the Y is a great fitness center. But with few exceptions, it no longer is living out its founder’s vision and purpose. In contrast, InterVarsity is still mentoring and discipling students.
There are other contrasting stories in many sectors such as Compassion International/ChildFund International and the Pew Charitable Trusts/The Crowell Trust, which we share in Mission Drift.
Why does one organization stay on mission while the other drifts to a place where it’s almost unrecognizable from its founding purpose? What we found is the cumulative impact of relatively small decisions.
KW: What are some key aspects of Mission True organizations?
PG: Two characteristics distinguish Mission True organizations:
- They have clarity regarding their mission—helping them to distinguish the method from the means. Consider Young Life, whose mission is to introduce Jesus to teenagers. More than fifty years ago, they connected to students through barbershop quartets. That wouldn’t work today. Though their method may be different, their mission clarity allows them to adapt old practices (e.g., barbershop quartets) and still carry out their mission (sharing Christ with students).
- They are intentional to protect their mission at all costs. For example, InterVarsity has received the proverbial pink slip from several universities.“There are a lot of universities trying to derecognize us,” Alec Hill, president of InterVarsity USA, shared. “But we have a Lord we have to obey.”
Mission True organizations are willing to count the costs to live out their full God-given call, demonstrating uncommon courage and conviction.
KW: What is at stake for organizations when evaluating their mission and maintaining it?
PG: When evaluating our mission, our impact is on the line.
At the crux of the issue is this—Do we believe that the Christ-centered aspect of our mission matters?
If we don’t believe it matters, we won’t make the challenging decisions to protect and enhance it.
KW: Can you offer some encouragement and advice for those seeking to evaluate their organization along these lines?
PG: If you’re interested, here is a survey to help you practically evaluate your organization’s mission: Mission Drift Survey.
Also, several questions to ask yourself when evaluating your mission: Do we have consistency in messaging? Are we clear about our mission? Does our board discuss this topic regularly? Beyond having clarity in our mission, do we also intentionally apply it in daily practices?
Our highest hope for this book is that it would be a practical guide for leaders and boards to understand the prevalence of Mission Drift and be equipped to make important decisions that will protect their core mission.