Why Nonprofits Need to Look Backward as Well as Forward

Talking about nonprofit marketing with colleagues recently sparked an interesting discussion on using an organization’s history (aka “heritage marketing”) – for example, celebrating a notable anniversary of a nonprofit’s founding to kick-off a fundraising drive or reinforce an organization’s longevity and brand.

Given the dynamic pace of change today, some might question whether this approach is outmoded. Shouldn’t nonprofits focus on the future rather than the past?

My answer is that an organization’s history shouldn’t be ignored because the past is tangible, the future is not. Through historic records, past meeting minutes and reports, photos, audio visuals, and printed matter, you can:

  • revisit, review, and explore the past as a way to understand what worked and what didn’t
  • gain insight into how the organization, its mission, and its culture have evolved
  • and leverage this knowledge to help the organization continue to evolve and adapt in a changing world.

It’s the reason we consider both the past and the future in strategic planning – to reflect on an organization’s history as part of a situational analysis and use it as a bridge to help envision the future.

2 Comments

  • Raymond Ventura February 11, 2011 Reply

    I think we should all be understanding that not all leaders are good leaders. I agree with this post.

  • Elaine_Fogel January 27, 2011 Reply

    I agree with you, Sybil. There are, however, some nonprofit leaders who have been with their organizations for decades and continue to hang on to the history to their detriment.

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