Risk Management and Simplicity

I have a wooded backyard. The trees are on a slight hill on the other side of a four foot retaining wall about 20-30 feet from the back of my house. Many of these trees lean, ever so slightly, toward my house. They are spindly pine trees and tall maple trees. But if you’ve ever attempted to cut down trees yourself, you know these can still be pretty heavy.

With recent storms, I’m even more nervous: Are these trees, while providing a little cover for suburban deer, actually more trouble than they’re worth? I love trees, but I love my family more. A bad windstorm could do some damage. And it’s all because of unnecessary clutter.

Deer in the Yard

A glimpse into the backyard woods

Sometimes, the best risk management is to simplify things and cut away what isn’t vital

It seems that some organizations out there (both for profit and nonprofit) suffer from clutter.

What are you and your organization doing right now that isn’t key to your core values or main mission? Is it adding additional risk? Even if it isn’t an obvious risk, is it adding to risk by dividing your efforts from your true purpose as an organization?

How can a nonprofit become ‘unsimplified’?

A nonprofit organization can become unsimplified the same way any organization becomes muddled and cluttered.

  • Layers of leadership adding their pet projects
  • Lack of clarity of core mission
  • Lack of discipline to stay on core mission
  • The ease of doing things that are urgent, not vital… to the core mission
  • Competing interests of board members, donors, employees
  • Allowing a ‘felt need’ in the community or of a consumer to drive programming that might be ancillary to the core mission

These types of things can gum up the works. They can divide an organization. They can take efforts from being laser focused and effective and make them impotent.

The risk here is more cultural and mission-based. And when organizations suffer culturally or become unclear from a mission perspective, there are ripple effects into the areas that could result in using my products (insurance). That’s not what most organizations want to happen.

How to mitigate this type of risk via organizational clutter?

Consider chopping away the things that aren’t helpful. The things that are on other people’s agendas. The things that seemed like a good idea 5 years ago or even 5 months ago but that really don’t serve those who you really want to serve.

It’s easy for me to make these suggestions from the safety of a blog post. However, I’ve been employed by nonprofits and have seen first hand how personal agendas, preferences, and in-fighting can cause problems.

Any organization made up of people can’t completely avoid these issues, but there are ways to limit the clutter and remain laser focused on mission.

  • Dust off core mission and values: Diligently test all programs by this standard
  • Review this mission with staff regularly
  • Review this mission with board members regularly
  • Filter employees, volunteers, donors, and other stakeholders by your core values and mission
  • Do not add to your mission in order to attract someone you feel your organization can’t live without (if that’s the only reason you’re adding to your mission or suite of programs)
  • Consider an outside resource or consultant to hold up the mirror
  • Consider pulling a ‘Steve Jobs’ when he came back to Apple: Peel away all programs except for the ones where you really excel. Do those even better than before.

If you don’t have the position or place to do these things on an organizational level, consider them with the team you manage, even if that team includes only one person: yourself.

I’d love to hear your insight!
  1. What other suggestions do you have for organizations to clear away the clutter?
  2. How have you seen clutter filter down to actually be a detriment to more traditional risk management issues around liability and property exposures?
  3. What has been successful for you in leading an organization to focus on a clear mission?


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