The founder of Organizational Sustainability Consulting, LLC, Dr. Ari Betof assists senior nonprofit leaders to achieve their mission and overcome fiscal challenges. One of the areas of focus of his consulting work is the phenomenon of false optimism. While leaders should be positive about their mission, they should not be blinded by it. Dr. Ari Betof recently published an article on the website Medium on the seduction of false optimism.
Positivity is often required of nonprofit trustees. The reason they choose to serve in these organizations is that they sincerely want to be forces for good. However, Dr. Betof observes, such optimism can be detrimental if it blinds trustees from reality.
In good practice, trustees must inform their decisions using hard data and prevailing fiscal realities. They should not allow false optimism to birth misleading data interpretation. For example, small revenue jumps should not be the basis of long-term projections, and historically uncorrelated statistics should not be used as predictive indicators. Likewise, revenue dips should not be shrugged off. Where false optimism leads many to look at the future through rose-colored lenses, effective trustees must confront the hard numbers and base their actions on them.
Ultimately, only fiscally healthy organizations fulfill their missions. When false optimism threatens the sustainability of an organization, no matter how well-intentioned the trustees, it cannot fulfill its mission. Optimism is good but it must be held in context to the realities on the ground.