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Reexamining mission can aid nonprofits

Author Patrick D. Paul
Date August 23, 2016

My name is Patrick D. Paul and for the past 12 years I have served as chief operating officer at Anderson Center for Autism.  In 2017, I will assume the leadership of Anderson as chief executive officer. Our staff of 800 supports approximately 140 individuals, both children and adults, who live with some of the most severe impacts of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Similar to many organizations, we have spent many years building our programs, finding our knowledge base, and addressing day-to-day service delivery.  We believe that we are a superb organization, but there is always room for improvement.  With that recognition in mind, two years ago we decided to regroup, refocus, and shift our perspective.  This effort has made us a better, stronger organization, but it is a process that I think could benefit all nonprofits and perhaps some for-profits as well.

As an organization we began to shift our thinking: we would no longer accept the status quo as being “as good as it gets”. We formed the Lifelong Learning Committee to take on this initiative and met weekly for more than 18 months.

In our work we systematically turned accepted wisdom upside down and reexamined every practice. We stopped looking at our work from our point of view, and instead, explored it from the vantage point of optimizing the quality of life of the individuals we serve: children and adults, many of whom are non-verbal, have social deficits and represent extreme behavioral challenges. How could we know that we are actually doing the things that we say we are doing?

As we reexamined our current practices, we realized that we had to find processes and tools to determine that we were meeting not only our goals, but the goals of the individuals in all Anderson programs.

Over time, Anderson’s clinical team found an array of tools that we are incorporating into our programs to measure how each individual is doing – in the areas where they have deficits as well as goals they want to achieve. Working together it became clear that Anderson Center for Autism needed a new mission statement and it was an expression of what we were working towards: Optimizing the Quality of Life for the Individuals we Serve.

We engaged our staff in a process of self-examination, recalibration, innovation all along the way asking ourselves:

  • Are our individuals feeling successful?
  • Is what we are doing providing a service?
  • Is it working? Is it in line with our mission?
  • Is there another innovation that would be more effective?

For all of us here at Anderson it became a question of setting the bar higher for ourselves.  We recognized that we are dealing with individuals with very specific requirements. We needed to differentiate the way we deliver services to each individual and use assessments and tools to get insights as to whether our approaches are working.