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July 7, 2010

Busting Myths

During a typical holiday visit with my family the conversation often turns to news of the latest medical, scientific or commercial “myth.” During this year’s July 4th celebration the conversation quickly turned to the recent study on the positive health effects of coffee consumption. Family members offered mixed reviews on the latest “study,” ranging from complete disbelief that drinking four or more cups a coffee could possibly be beneficial, to self satisfaction and relief that excessive coffee consumption might not be as harmful as previously thought.

Excess coffee drinking aside, I’m always grateful when the book I happen to be reading teaches me something I didn’t know beforehand. All the better when the lesson dispels a myth. This week I learned that my knowledge of sushi—from its history to how to properly consume it—was largely mythological. Like many American sushi lovers I mistakenly thought that the essence of “sushi” was raw fish, and that any sushi item without raw fish was “faux sushi.” According to Trevor Corson, author of “The Story of Sushi,” the essence of sushi is flavored rice. Despite having eaten more than my share of nigiri and sushi rolls, I was unaware that sushi rice contained anything other than rice! Corson writes about the traditional tartness of sushi rice in Tokyo, explaining that “The most closely guarded secret is usually the ratio of vinegar to salt in the sushi rice. It’s said that a master chef can tell the lineage of a sushi bar simply by tasting its rice.” He continues by explaining the American palate’s preference to sweet and sour flavors in sushi rice, adding that in the U.S. “Sushi chefs have noticed that when they add more sugar they get extra compliments.”

As I reached the end of “The Story of Sushi,” I reflected on the value of myth-busting in organizational management. The pursuit of organizational excellence requires occasional myth-busting. For example:

Nonprofit leaders, like members of our larger society, often hold fast to myths that suit or meet our needs. Believing that boards will be productive without training and support, that donors will continue supporting an organization without interruption or that risk won’t “happen here” are potentially dangerous myths.

Step back and look at the core strategies on which your plans are constructed. Challenge the assumptions that underpin your projections for next year’s revenues. Consider a risk that has never materialized but that would represent a serious setback for your mission. By rooting out the myths that exist under the shiny exterior of your nonprofit you’ll be taking an important step in organizational learning.

Melanie Lockwood Herman is Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. She welcomes your feedback on this article and questions about the Center’s resources at Melanie@nonprofitrisk.org or (202) 785-3891.

Melanie’s most recent books include Ready…or Not: A Risk Management Guide for Nonprofit Executives. Information on this book and other recent Center publications can be found at www.nonprofitrisk.org/store/hot.asp.


New Workshop Announced

The line-up of educational sessions for the 2010 Risk Management & Finance Summit for Nonprofits includes a just-added session titled “Mission-Forward vs. Safety-Forward Organizations...Are they the same thing?” The workshop will explore the concept of a safety-forward organization and how that compares to an organization with “bolt-on” risk management practices. Join speaker Kevin Trapani, CEO of The Redwoods Group, for the workshop on Sunday, October 10 at 3:15 pm. The Summit will be held at the Loews Hotel Philadelphia, this October 10-12. The hotel is located in the architectural landmark PSFS building, the nation’s first modern skyscraper. The Summit hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of shopping, theater, eclectic South Street, and historic as well as cultural attractions. Highlights of this year’s conference include:

To see the detailed program, click here. To reserve overnight accommodations at the Loews, click here. If you’re ready to register, click here.