Based in Boston, Ari Betof, Ed.D., is a results-driven consultant who helps nonprofit leaders to align their mission and resources in ways that create dynamic organizations. In a recent Medium article, “The Seduction of False Optimism,” Dr. Ari Betof began by emphasizing the valuable service that optimism provides as a counter to challenging and often painful processes involved in setting institutions on a path toward sustainable growth.
Unfortunately, optimism can also cover a multitude of sins, including the papering over of real problems and being “blinded by resolve.” This occurs when an organization has a compelling purpose that engenders a sense of perseverance, even when the data argues against one’s line of action.
Tiny revenue increases can easily be extrapolated into future trend lines, with weaknesses explained away as “blips” and the wrong metrics used to chart a course. This is amplified by the ease with which the wrong conditions can be placed on spreadsheets and made to indicate a compelling path forward.
An example is a model created that charts an organization back to a balanced budget simply by expanding revenue by 2 percent annually, assuming growth generated from programs within the strategic plan. If this outlook has been codified within the plan, few leaders will take a close look at the feasibility of it, when funding constraints subsequently dictate a cutting of expenses by 2 percent.
The end result is often an unrealistic plan, given current budget dynamics, that rarely get brought up in board meetings until the problem has compounded and the organization goes “over the cliff.”