There are only a few things we all agree on in this work. One of those things is that mission creep is no good, very bad. Mission creep is like mixing trash and recycling together. It’s like not tipping a hairstylist or restaurant server. It’s like soaking a cast-iron pan in water overnight. It’s bad.

The term originated in 1993 and concerned the United Nations’s peacekeeping efforts during the Somali Civil War, and now it’s used a lot in our sector to talk about when organizations start doing things outside their stated mission, which causes organizations to waste resources on stuff they’re not good at, or that another org is already doing more effectively. When orgs don’t stick to their missions, it often leads to confused constituents, annoyed partner orgs, irritated funders, and a less effective field.

But like everything else, there comes a point where philosophies and concepts are misused or are taken to the extreme, to the detriment of the sector. I’m starting to see this with our fear of mission creep. We need to rethink it. Our acceptance of the idea that all orgs should specialize in a few things and not do too many things has been having some unintended consequences, including the punishment of organizations led by marginalized communities, the entrenching of foundations into single-issues, and the lack of collective actions around critical systemic issues.

Organizations led by marginalized communities often have broad missions, and this is sometimes hard for people to understand. This broadness is often seen as a weakness, a lack of organization, when in reality it is a culturally-relevant necessity. A decade ago I led an organization focused on serving the Vietnamese community in Seattle. We started with academic programs serving youth. We then branched into serving younger kids. Then we started a youth employment program. Then we helped their parents. Then we included helping elders vote. At multiple points colleagues told me, “Your mission is drifting. You should focus on one program and drop everything else.”

Read the full article about rethinking the concept of mission creep by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF.