Thursday, September 18, 2014

When Is It Time to Eliminate a Failed Program?

One major challenge facing many associations is “killing” a failing program. A program that doesn’t meet today’s member needs. A program that costs way more than the organization can afford. A program that just doesn’t add member value the way it used to.

So, why don’t we eliminate these programs and use the resources for something of more value?

  • it may be a “sacred cow” of one or two board members or perhaps the entire organization.
  • it may be considered a program that the association can’t do without.
  • It may have dedicated staff that defend it as a way to defend their jobs.
The current news about the U.S. “War on Poverty” illustrates the problems with failed programs.

  • The US has spent $22 trillion on the “war on poverty” since President Johnson got Congress to approve it back in 1964.
  • Yet, the U.S. poverty rate today is higher than when the federal assistance began.
  • And, today, the U.S. Census Bureau reports more than 45 million Americans are below the poverty line.
Yet, we continue to pour billions of dollars annually into federal programs ... that don’t seem to be working.


Because “we’ve always done it this way” is probably the easiest answer.

Because we still fail to follow the advice that “insanity is doing the same things over and over but expecting different results.”

And, like many associations, it is hard to eliminate a program once it has been created.

As you review your association’s programs, really look at them. Which is your version of the War on Poverty?


  1. Associations that want to thrive over the next decade and beyond must act to sunset offerings that no longer deliver value to stakeholders and capture value back into the organization. On this point, we certainly agree. But I must respectfully disagree with the skewed interpretation of the impact of the War on Poverty presented in this post, based on an article from the website of the conservative publication Investors Business Daily. I would urge you to review a more balanced presentation of the facts in the following post from

    In truth, the War on Poverty has led to a better than one-third decline in poverty in the U.S. since 1967. Of course, there is much work still to do to eradicate poverty (including the need to raise the minimum wage) but the description of the War on Poverty as a failure is simply not accurate.

    A better analogy for the post might have been the countless billions of dollars spent by Congress on military hardware that was neither wanted by the Pentagon's civilian and uniformed leadership, nor required for our national defense. The post below, from the end of 2013, outlines some examples:

    A different point of view for your consideration.

  2. Thanks Jeff. The Forbes piece did not show up when I did my Google search for the topic. I like the Forbes info.

    One issue I didn't cover is government and associations who use "base line" budgeting system ... which automatically increases costs of all programs.

    I'm an advocate of "zero-based budgeting" which would help boards (and staff) do a much better job of assessing resources dedicated to association programs.