“Fly the Friendly Skies” – remember that slogan by United Airlines?
Yeah… sometimes those skies aren’t as friendly as you might think.
For nonprofiteers and social enterprisers, the skies are filled with challenge upon challenge. Building capital, recruiting a board, finding funding, making payroll… those skies sometimes feel more like a scene out of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” than the image of a bright sunny n’ clear spring ‘morn. But I promise you – the sky is clear, calm, and sunny up higher. You just need to gain a little altitude…and that takes attitude.
Systems are in place to move you through a process of “leveled success” at best…or “terminal failure” at worst. These systems are built into our corporate culture with such terms as ROI (Return on Investment) or Differentiated Customer Value Proposition (which sounds more like a sports injury, doesn’t it?) or so many more. The challenge, of course, is that these systems all qualify out one major component: attitude. Systems want to be emotionally neutral – “let the number speak for themselves,” they’ll say. We are told to fill out this form, apply for this permit, ask for only this specific amount and only to do these specific things.. the system as it design, is to maintain the status quo of the system itself.
You didn’t get into the nonprofiteer game or the entrepreneurial arena to be King of the “TPS Report“… you joined to game because of your passion and values. It’s time to bring that back into our operations.
Now to be fair, this isn’t a call to go crazy and rage against the machine. In fact it is more along the lines of appreciating that machine, understanding how it works, and then challenging the machine. Don’t “rage” against the machine; “rewire it.” But to get to that stage, you need to get actively involved in your community and learn the ropes.
Then, begin to challenge them.
Ask questions of funders, of supporters, and of corporate partners. Ask what they see as “the ways things are” in terms of their processes – and then suggest alternatives. A foundation tells you in a face to face meeting that the process only allows for one-year commitments at a maximum of $10,000 grant award. Suggest the strength is sustainability and propose a three-year commitment front loaded with a $10,000 first-yer award, but a automatic award increase in the 2nd and 3rd years based on mutually agreement to metrics (it would be the same as writing three separate years of one-year committed grant asks, but in the alternative approach, the focus shift to “performance and outcomes” and not just good wordsmith-ing and a slick proposal each yer to the foundation’s program officers). Ask away! Why not? Do you believe in your programming? Do you love, respect, trust and back your staff team? Then it’s time to show that in the moments that matter the most. You are presenting your impact, so be impactful! The worst that can happen is a flat “no;” however the best could be a dialogue that looks to better way to collaborate on financial (and sweat) equity.
It is too easy to follow the formula and chalk it up to things “always being this way.” It is time to question the status quo and ask ourselves a fundamentally new question – “can we do better for our donors, our organizations, and our community?”
We are stuck in low altitude because we often feel it is the only level our ships can hold us and sustain our flight – because we have also been reminded of the dangers of being too far out there and questions methods and processes. But ironically, we are in the business of being badass and bold. We strive to solve challenging and difficult social problems, and we are asked to do this while maintain efficiencies and scales that literally tie one hand behind our backs, resting on the battle cry of “do more with less.”
Let’s grab the stick and soar higher. The skies could get a little choppy during the climb, but our attitude filled with value and passion can send us through the storm clouds… and into the higher altitude with calmer winds.
Thank you for flying Connect the Dots Airlines. And welcome to Connected Community, USA.