(Sung to the tune of Lion, Tigers, and Bears)
A few years ago, there was a book called Hope is Not a Strategy. Agreed, but it might be the beginning of one. Sometimes to just “stay alive,” surviving has to be your strategy. Example: when the world is complex, your organization has been flipped on its head, and your funding streams have all but dried up.
To be sure, the survival strategy should be temporary; eventually we need to create a “thriving” strategy. To extend this Oz metaphor, moving from surviving to thriving is going to take heart, brains, and courage.
Heart: It’s critical to stay true to the reason why you exist and for whom. Losing sight of your purpose and your passion can be the last nail in the coffin. On the other hand, it’s important to ask one difficult question: “Do they still really want or need us anymore and do they still need us in the same ways?”
It’s a “lean” world. We don’t have the luxury of providing services just because we like to do that kind of work. To stay alive, there has to be a need or a desire for it, and the way we offer it must meet current conditions. For example, many organizations such as museums, galleries, aquariums, theatres, etc., have gone under in the last few years. Do you have any idea how many places there are for people to go and look at stuff? In addition, people aren’t going out as much as they used to. Organizational viability is determined from the outside in, not the inside out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just matter what you want to do or what your assets are, what also matters is: does anyone want or need them?
This doesn’t mean your heart has to break, but it does mean connecting your heart and passion to external relevance. There are ways to do that without compromising yourself. The word for this is “co-creation” and it means building more of a partnership with the people for whom you exist, not just a one-way service to customer model.
While heart and passion are necessary for your ability to thrive, they are not sufficient. A second requirement is: “If I only had a brain.”
Brains: Staying alive and eventually thriving also might demand a shift in one’s mindset. You must care about what you have to offer, have an external population who needs what you offer, and a well thought-out plan, of course. But more importantly, you also have to be excellent at what you do. And, you have to measure outcomes, not just outputs. Not just what did we do, but did we do it well? Not just did we implement change, but also was it progress? ALL organizations will have to measure in this new world. This will be true of government, nonprofit, foundations, educational agencies, EVERYONE. This is why we will be funded and it doesn’t matter if your funding comes from taxpayers, government, foundations, or through private funders. In the future we will get funding because we are good, not just because we exist. For example, we get inquiries all of the time from nonprofit resource centers to find out how to keep non-profits alive and we always answer the same way: Make sure they offer something that society needs and make sure they are REALLY good at it. Survival in this new, “lean” world is very Darwinian in both interpretations of his work: survival of the “fittest” and survival of the “best fit.” Again, all determined by the external needs and desires of society.
For some of us, this means an additional mindset change: making money is not necessarily evil. The integrity issue is dependent on what you are doing to get the funding, where you’re getting it from, and whether or not what you provide is of positive value. So, what about social entrepreneurship as a means of finding money? SE is turning around many emerging countries and marginalized populations, so why not consider it as a funding source? Since you are in more direct control of where the money comes from, it’s more stable in many cases. This demands a business plan and understanding how to run an organization, but it isn’t as hard as it sounds; business plans are not rocket science.
We have a 70+ year-old friend who discovered this about the county’s affordable housing program that she oversees. At the same time, much of her funding had dried up she discovered that much of her budget over the years had been going for repairs of appliances and equipment in the housing units. She realized she could make a bi-lingual DVD explaining to her tenants how to use the equipment, resulting in fewer and lower repair costs. Then, realizing that much of this equipment was the same in other counties’ programs, she could make money by selling her DVD very inexpensively to other affordable housing organizations nationwide. This would help her and her national colleagues as well as the people she was serving.
That is social entrepreneurship.
Courage: Okay so now we have heart and brains, here’s the last ingredient: courage. Winston Churchill often wrote and spoke about fear. His point always being that courage is not the opposite of fear, it is the appropriate response to fear. When push comes to shove, there are only two possible responses: courage or cowardice.
Cowardice manifests itself in many ways: hiding, complacency, paralysis, hoping someone will rescue us, blaming, complaining and whining, failure to be honest with ourselves, passivity, righteous ranting, etc. Courage, on the other hand, looks very different. To quote Alfred Adler, “Life happens at the level of action, trust only action.” While including heart and brains, courage also includes tenacity, avoiding self-delusion, brutal self-honesty, showing up in our own lives, and above all taking action.
Courage also means exploring new territories and making new friends–even perhaps among the people we used to see as “not our friends.” People who might have different opinions about things. Hmmm. A great example is the rural county that held a summit between the food regulators and the organic food producers (farmers and ranchers) to explore their common ground; to stop being enemies and to help each other in any way possible to further their shared purpose of enhancing human health.
These are called “Communities of Promise2™” and like a prairie dog village, they are popping up all over. “Promise” in this case means two things: Promise = potential and promise = commitment
It takes real courage to be at the table with people with whom we disagree. Like the old quote “War is easy because peace is hard.” It means drawing ever widening circles. But first we have to let go of the need for others to absolutely agree with us. This is best stated in the old poem by Edwin Markham:
He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But truth and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him in.
There we are. Some answers for this new world from the old sources that have always gotten us through: Heart, brains, and courage. Because, Toto, I am absolutely sure we aren’t in Kansas anymore.