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A Measure of Success: 150 Victories

December 07 2010 | Activism,
by Jim

Having come from the tech/business sector and worked for companies such as SAP, I am often asked what I perceive the major difference is between for-profit and non-profit business. Specifically, there seems to be some cloudiness within the general population as to how non-profit organizations measure success. This is understandable if one compares a NPO to your average for-profit company. If you work at a for-profit company, then success is fairly straightforward and easy to define. Success equals a number – be it the number of products sold, the amount of revenue generated, etc.

Failure is seen as coming in at anything less than that number. This of course is an oversimplification of success.  However the important understanding here is that success must be definable, quantifiable and easy to communicate. Most non-profit businesses, especially heath & welfare, humanitarian and environmental organizations, live in a different world. Whereas the goal for virtually all for-profit organizations is growth and sustainability, the goal for an organization such as ours is eliminate the need for our existence. 

In effect, we are working to try and put ourselves out of business.  This often involves changing the cultural landscape around us; convincing people to stop throwing their cigarette butts on the ground, or using reusable containers instead of single use plastic bottles.  As such, we often measure our effectiveness by how we perceive the zeitgeist around us changing.

However five years ago I found myself wanting something more.  I wanted something more definitive for our organization to hang its hat on.  I wanted a number. So in 2005, in an effort to shift the culture of nonprofits, particularly Surfrider Foundation, we adopted a strategic plan with a very crisp vision statement – To secure 150 coastal victories by the end of 2010. We tightened down the definition of a coastal victory so there would be no ambiguity: A coastal victory is a decision made in favor of the coastal and ocean environment that results in a positive conservation outcome, improves coastal access, or both.

There was complete clarity regarding the goal. We were on the hook; accountable for achieving this ambitious goal by the end of 2010. We also agreed to be as transparent as possible updating our activists, members, staff and board on our progress on the front page of our website and on the cover of every Making Waves. I've personally written 24 blogs updating people on where we were on this goal.

I am proud to report that on December 1st of this year, the Surfrider Foundation secured our 150th victory.

I confess that it feels good to say that – to know that we, as an organization set a goal for ourselves and reached it.  I am even more excited when I think of all the communities and places that were protected or enhanced through this effort (If you are not familiar with them I encourage you to look over this list of wins). This milestone was not reached without a great deal of work, from a great many people.

The largest amount of the credit for these coastal wins goes to the grassroots volunteers in almost 80 locations in the United States, and the dozen plus countries worldwide. The power-tools behind the Surfrider force are people just like you. These are the people that inspire me every day and the ones I've been recording on podcasts for the last five years. Of course are others that should be thanked; our staff, our board of directors, and of course all of our members, donors and other partners without whose support these victories would not have been possible. So where does this leave us in terms of success?  Certainly we won’t be happy until the day we achieve that final victory; the day we feel secure enough with the state of our beaches and coastlines where we can turn off the lights and lock the doors for good.  Until then, I ask that each of you continue to plug in wherever you can and keep supporting our oceans, waves and beaches.

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