Shift happens! Sometimes its difficult to assess the significance of a shift when you’re in the middle of it. It’s also challenging to detect and identify shifts when there are so many concurrent shifts happening at the same time. I think historians will regard this first decade of the 21st Century as a tumultuous time in history; a time of enormous shifts that redefined much of the world for decades to come.
Initially, some of these shifts may seem small, perhaps even insignificant, but in reality they are seismic in scope and have enormous impact. The term seismic shift refers to a relatively small shift in the earth’s crust that is capable of producing an enormous earthquake if it happens at the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time depending on your perspective).
For the sake of this article, I am talking about seismic shifts in the way we think. These seismic shifts may seem small at first, but they can trigger a set of events that follow like a line of falling dominoes.
How we think about a problem effects both how we define the problem as well as the possible range of solutions we consider. Here are five seismic shifts to consider that affect thinking and doing related to sustainability. These are not all new ideas, but some people are still stuck in an outdated mindset. I encourage you to consider these shifts when thinking about the sustainability of any individual program or your organization.
- we’re not talking mere mere semantics here. This is a seismic shift that radically alters one’s thinking (as well as vocabulary and action). Outdated thinking views people as donors and their money as a charitable gift or contribution. The seismic shift in thinking is that charity has given way to investment. People invest (rather than donate) their philanthropic dollars and consequently they are investors or funders rather than donors. Rather than asking or begging for their donations; you are counseling them on where to invest their money for the greatest return on their investment.
- Review all of your communications to check the consistency of your language (print -- brochures and letters, emails, website, and presentations) in how you approach funders.
- Discuss this shift with your Board and Staff and explore how it impacts your organization.
- As a group read a book like The Raising of Money by Jim Lord -- it’s a quick read and great discussion starter.
- this is a huge shift in thinking for many nonprofit leaders and staff that follows the shift to the investment mindset. Many are focused on the work they do (activities) and highlight the programs and services they offer, rather than the differences that occur (results). If you’re familiar with logic models, we’re talking about focusing on the outcomes rather than the outputs. Granted, activities are easier to count and report -- 37 people attended our class or program. ------ People appreciate the work you do, investors value the impact you make. The shift in thinking is to focus on the results of your work and how that impacts the clients and communities.
Tips for Action:
- Reflect on how you write and talk about your work - is it focused on your activities (number of clients served, fed, or clothed) or how their lives and the community improved as a result of your work.
- Can you describe the economic impact of your work -- how many jobs created and how those jobs add to the tax base of your community?
reflects the shift from independent action (what our organization does by itself) to an interdependent network (what we do in collaboration with others or as a community). This shift reflects thinking on a broader scale -- a community or sector as a whole rather than each independent actor involved. Larger scale investments seek to revitalize a geographic area (neighborhood or city) like Detroit, for example or reinvent a failing system like education. In these cases, it’s imperative for all involved to work together sharing their struggles and data to identify promising practices.
Philanthropic funders realize they can affect more significant change by focusing on the collective impact of their portfolio (in a community or sector) rather than each individual grant. This requires more from the serving organizations than just “playing well together”; it’s a shift in thinking and doing to function more as a network -- the we rather than the me. This is the African proverb in action, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Going together requires more efforts, but yields greater results.
- Who else does the same or similar work in your community or a neighboring community? Get involved (or start) a community of practice with others and share best, promising, or next practices with them.
- Talk with your funders and find out who else they fund in your area and look for ways to connect and collaborate.
taps a newer shift in philanthropic thinking where funders are seeking greater leverage for their investments. This trend has been accentuated as a result of the Great Recession. We’ve seen such dramatic increases in the demand for help with basic needs in every community that funders are looking for more ways to leverage their investments. Many nonprofits are among the most creative and innovative organizations on the planet and have incredible abilities to stretch shoestring budgets and maximize program funding. Be creative in your thinking and document your work to demonstrate how through the use of volunteers, in-kind support, or public-private partnerships you are able to be leverage every dollar invested and produce a 2x, 3x, 4x, or greater return.
This shows that rather than simply being a consumer of resources -- $1 invested produces $1 of social good; you are a catalyst for greater impact and every dollar invested is matched and yields $3, $4, $5 or maybe even $8 or $10 (or more) in social impact.
is a shift that shows you’re not focused on the needs you have, but the needs you meet and the opportunities you create. Granted keeping your doors open is important (and indeed a challenge in this economy), but the seismic shift is your greater focus is keeping your community vibrant and strong. Your goal is not just to keep the lights on, but to continue providing your strengths and capacities to the community to sustain the impact you make in the lives of the clients and communities served.
- Review your communications to ensure they focus on the needs you meet rather than the needs you have.
- Engage the Board in sustainability planning for the organization.
These shifts are significant and will dramatically alter our future. How we prepare for, respond and adapt to these shifts will affect our sustainability. One of the concepts we teach in our workshops is prophetic resilience. Resilience is what psychologists and other mental health professionals label “the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity”. Most of us refer to it as the capacity to bounce back. The term prophetic refers to someone foreseeing the future or a future event. Prophetic resilience combines these concepts and is the capacity of an organization to anticipate the future direction or need of a community (or clients) and make the adjustments to their organization and program to meet those needs as they arise. The legendary hockey player, Wayne Gretzky captured this notion when he said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Prophetic resilience then is actually the capacity to spring forward rather than bounce back.
I’d love to hear ways that you, your board, and organization are adapting to these seismic shifts and how you’re not only bouncing back, but also springing forward.
Kevin Monroe is the Founder
and Managing Partner of X Factor Consulting, a consulting firm that
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