Embracing the “Same Old Thing”

I love to innovate. I will, to the chagrin of my team, tinker with ideas up to and past the point when new ideas can be implemented. If it’s new, I am likely excited about it.

It’s a temptation many of us feel—to rebrand that perfectly good logo or rearrange the living room to freshen things up. Sometimes, this can be a good thing, a low-cost way to inject some much-needed life into something that’s gone stale.

However, just because something feels old to us doesn’t mean it isn’t working. Change for change’s sake can also be a waste of time, energy, and money just to get an end result that’s merely different rather than actually better.

The Showroom Vs. The Boardroom

As a mentor of mine regularly cautioned when I proposed a (typically unnecessary) change, “It wears out in the boardroom long before it wears out on the showroom floor.”

In other words, we can be so close to a project and become so accustomed—dare I say bored—that we miss the fact that the old way of doing things still works.

Have you seen nonprofits pursue change just for the sake of doing something different?

As times change, nonprofits can get caught up in rushing to the shiny, new object. If this new goal is within its wheelhouse, perhaps it makes good sense. 

However, when a desire for newness causes a group to stray from its mission, problems arise. Then, change becomes a distraction from the organization’s purpose.

A Donor’s Role

Donors have an important role in maintaining order here. As a supporter, you play a part in keeping an organization focused and faithful to its mission. Here are three principles to keep in mind as you give:

  • Don’t abandon a group just because it’s doing “the same old thing” if that thing is the reason the organization exists. New ventures might feel more exciting than established ones, but sustained, focused effort is what delivers real change. In the policy space, more often than not groups stray when they forget they represent ideas and not political parties or coalitions. Politicians are a short-term investment, but nonprofits should be faithful to long-term principles. Take it as a positive sign when an organization sticks to doing what it does well.
  • Do challenge organizations that seem to be slipping away from core principles. Inquire into the rationale for sudden changes and be alert to signs that an organization is drifting from its original mission. Donors shouldn’t just invest; they should be invested in the groups they support staying true to their values and ideals. If even a new project or initiative is an exciting one, ask yourself whether this group is the right group to undertake it.
  • Don’t tempt organizations to stray from their mission. Donor desires—and donor dollars—can often lead organizations into new areas that don’t fit with the group’s main goals or strengths. When going to a group with an idea, be open to the possibility that the answer could be no. (And consider that the “no” may be even more incentive to invest in that organization. In the long term, a group that refuses to forsake its mission is the safest bet.)

The good news is that even in a landscape of constant change, there are great groups holding firmly to their grounding principles and animating ideas. Reward them for it; these are the groups that end up making a difference.

Serious giving is more than writing a check. Taking your giving seriously means helping the organizations you support stay true to their mission and remain focused where their comparative advantage lies.


  • Peter Lipsett

    Peter Lipsett is vice president at DonorsTrust. He also leads DonorsTrust’s Novus Society, a network of donors under 40 committed to growing their philanthropic know-how. He has a dual degree in political science and theater from Davidson College and finally got a practical credential with an MBA from George Mason University.

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