Today Decisions

January 12, 2023

Except for those that comment on how long my posts are, the rest reading this blog are people. And as people, we are constantly faced with the conundrum of what we want today versus what we want tomorrow. It is an eternal conflict and it kinda sucks. 

Our today desires are often at odds with our tomorrow goals. Today, we want the cheeseburger, the beer, and the new sneakers. Tomorrow we want to be fit, healthy, and have some extra money in the bank. We are constantly faced with satisfying our desires today so we can achieve our goals tomorrow.

As always, what is true in our personal lives is usually true in our civic lives. The community behaves like the individual because it is made up of individuals. 

I have worked with a lot of community development organizations in my career and the same scenario plays out time and time again. An organization develops long-term goals but continuously shoots itself in the foot by caving to short-term desires. Typically a board of directors hires a professional to develop a strategic plan, board members provide their thoughts, the consultant moves around some sticky notes, debate ensues, and eventually, a plan is created. 

The goal of the plan is to provide direction. How can an individual or an entity arrive at their destination, if they don’t first determine where they want to go? Individuals, businesses, non-profits, and local governments all benefit from deciding in advance what they want to achieve. This provides direction and should help guide decision-making throughout the course of the year. Decide where you want to go, follow the directions, and viola, you should reach your destination. 

Simple enough in theory, but it is in the execution where the problem lies The temptation to satisfy today desires, or to avoid today pain, comes at the expense of tomorrow success. Saving money is a long-term goal, but to be successful, it requires a lot of short-term decisions. This is the point of making a budget so that you decide in advance what you can afford. If you pull out your credit card for every Instagram pop-ad, that bank account is gonna be exhausted. 

The point of adopting a diet or creating a fitness plan is the same idea. Set out long-term goals today to guide short-term decisions in the meantime. Follow the route to get to the destination. Yes, it is easier to skip the gym or opt for the burrito over the salad, but this takes you off course. Satisfying short-term desires comes at the expense of long-term goals and ultimately makes people less happy. When we keep satisfying our today desires or avoiding our today pain, we never achieve our tomorrow goals. This ultimately leads to a lot of life dissatisfaction. It’s a real pisser! I want to have money, I want to be skinny, I want to be fit, but I also want to eat pizza, and watch another show and buy some more Capri pants. 

It’s a test of willpower, and the willingness to stick to goals, to deny today desires, or accept today pain, ultimately makes tomorrow better. If you make a lot of good today decisions, tomorrow you will end up with money in the bank, maybe you will fit into your skinny jeans. A lot of small today decisions makes tomorrow goals possible. 

Individuals are prone to these mistakes, but so are community development organizations. I am not a life coach, so I don’t care what mistakes people are out there making. I do care about community development organizations, so their mistakes matter to me. 

All of these organizations set out to do good work, but too few of them ever achieve their goals. This is due to the tendency to avoid doing what is right today in order to have a greater impact tomorrow. An organization can set out to achieve all the right goals, but if those aspirations aren’t matched with action, it’s meaningless. Not only is it meaningless, but it’s also a huge waste of resources. 

The goals must be the guide and those decisions that lead you to your destination must be adhered to. If you decided you wanted to take a trip to Alaska, but every time you came to a turn, you decided to ignore the GPS and come up with your own route, well, you would find yourself not getting to Alaska quickly. 

An organization must continue to follow the path it sets out by continuously making today decisions that leads to tomorrow goals. This is how accountability works and here is what it means.

  • Be explicit in goals. State from the outset what you plan to achieve and how you plan to do it. Non-profits are notorious for having implicit expectations of volunteers. You can’t assume people know what you want out of their commitment, as a board member, you are going to have to be detailed and up-front about what a commitment includes. Are new members excepted to raise money or host parties, or attend every event? What do they need to do to make the organization a success? Decide and stick to it, and recruit members using explicit expectations. This will provide everyone with a more satisfactory experience. When we tell new recruits that nothing is expected of them, no one should be all that upset with their contribution is nothing.
  • Stick to those expectations. If a volunteer stops showing up, it’s easier to avoid the pain today by not saying something, but this creates more pain tomorrow. If a volunteers states that they will do something and they don’t do it, ignoring the failure is an even greater failure. This is making a bad today decision at the cost of a goal tomorrow. Knock that shit off. Make decisions about what you want to achieve and stick to them, even when, especially when, it is uncomfortable. A successful organization must confront those individuals not doing their part. Otherwise, those not carrying their weight are ruining the chance for everyone else to be involved in an impactful organization, and the organization itself is failing its mission and members. A little today discomfort is worth it to achieve tomorrow satisfaction. 

The role of revitalization and community development organizations is critical to the health of the community. So many residents’ well-being depends on the success of these non-profits. The work is extremely important and therefore it is vital that the mission gets met. While the desire not to upset someone is understandable, the outcomes are upsetting to everyone. 

Sure, it might be hard to show up to the gym each day or keep that credit card locked away, but the end result is worth it. Of course, it will be awkward to confront a volunteer or staff member that isn’t doing their share, but that’s the cost of having goals and the price an organization must pay to achieve them. It’s easy to set tomorrow goals, the real work comes in making a series of today decisions, but when an organization stays the course and continues to make good today decisions, tomorrow is so much better. 


you may also like

May 10, 2024

Better, Not Bigger

Last week I spent a couple of days with the Civic Pride Campaign team in Marshalltown, Iowa.  We spent those 3 days discussing our strategies for their year long effort

April 26, 2024

Smokes on a Train

I am leery of writing on the differences between the United States and Europe. I often get negative feedback as people feel slighted that I have compared the two because

March 22, 2024


Some were worried, others were concerned. We got lots of advice.  Amber and I were cautioned numerous times to be very, very careful. Friends and family, out of an abundance